Rangers 2-1 Hibs verdict: Rangers once again prove too strong for Hibs but Jack Ross' men make life tough
In their final league head to head of a campaign that promises to prove memorable for both, Jack Ross’ men walked into Ibrox intent on becoming the first Scottish side to take any points off the champions on their own patch.
Like everyone else, they failed in that mission but, unlike many others, they can again claim to have run them close.
Just a handful of games away from an invincible league season, the only blemish on Rangers’ record in Govan had been two goals - one apiece from Motherwell and Dundee United - but neither of those had cost them points.
But, they will consider themselves fortunate that was again the case. A Kevin Nisbet goal with 12 minutes remaining might have been enough had Ryan Porteous’ earlier ‘goal’ not been disallowed.
Trailing by two goals, Hibs had come back at their hosts. In the 69th minute Martin Boyle almost capitalised on the home side’s high line as Nisbet played a long ball over the top for the Aussie forward to burst onto from deep and then drilled a shot at Allan McGregor’s goal but the Rangers keeper was able to deny him.
A couple of minutes later, the Leith side did find a way past the Rangers miserly backline but the officials weighed in to ensure it wouldn’t count.
New Scotland cap Kevin Nisbet was involved again when he sent in a dipping freekick which required McGregor’s intervention and from the corner Porteous reacted to a head over the line.
Unfortunately, for Hibs the whistle had already blown for an infringement. If that was disappointing at the time, it was a source of frustration after the final whistle when the Hibs gaffer insisted that a review of the footage showed no foul.
And without that goal, the capital side fell just short against the best team in the country this season.
For a Rangers side looking to see out the season unbeaten, it proved they are in decent fettle as they look ahead to their Scottish Cup tie against Celtic, scheduled for next Saturday but subject to change due to Prince Philip’s funeral.
The performance, though, was also enough to buoy Hibs as they take on the twin challenge of cementing their top-three status and continuing their cup challenge.
Rangers had welcomed back Borna Barasic, Ryan Kent and Alfredo Morelos to the starting line-up, while there was intrigue as young fullback Nathan Patterson was pitched against Hibs’ promising wingback Josh Doig, who has earned plaudits for the way he handled James Tavernier in previous contests. As it transpired, neither of the impressive youngsters gave up much ground to the other.
Rangers were the side on the front foot, enjoying greater territorial advantage as the game settled into an early rhythm but Hibs offered them no easy passage through to Ofir Marciano’s goal.
That was evidenced by Ryan Kent instead attempting a long range effort in the 18th minute.
Rangers thought they had opened the scoring a minute later, when Morelos sent in an angled effort and Kemar Roofe turned it into the net. But he was flagged offside.
Hibs had a dig on target in the 20th minute from Jackson Irvine but it was the home side that broke the deadlock when a Barasic delivery found the head of Roofe but when he was foiled, the ball eventually landed for Jo Aribo, who volleyed home the 21st minute opener.
A few minutes later there was a moment of controversy after Nisbet turned and cut inside before prodding a pass through to Boyle. He tried driving at goal before checked inside but didn’t have the strength to barge beyond his markers and tumbled to the turf.
Referee Don Robertson booked the Aussie for diving, which seemed harsh as he never intimated he wanted a penalty, a point that the player made forcibly to the officials at the break.
Hibs had been keen to pull evel again before half-time and Nisbet came close to having a tap-in, before Joe Newell again found Hibs’ top scorer. This time his screamer fizzed just wide.
Irvine then found Boyle but his effort also veered just inches off target. Boyle then turned provider as his corner was attacked by Paul Hanlon but his header lacked direction.
These games have enough history of ill-will and no-holds-barred competitiveness to always conjure up something that always threatens to bubble over and that moment came in the 55th minute when Porteous and Connor Goldson became entangled. Strong words were exchanged in the technical area, giving the rest of the match added spice.
Rangers, got what would prove to be the decisive goal the 62nd minute, though, and while Hibs will always feel they could have done better, it was a moment of sheer ability as Kent cut in from the right flank, and skipped past Newell and Gogic before unleashing a scorching strike beyond Marciano.
Hibs still refused to admit defeat and with Rangers huffing and puffing a tad in the latter stages, substitute Chris Cadden cut the ball back to Paul McGinn and his deep cross found the head of Nisbet to give the Scotland striker the goal he deserved even if it ultimately proved insufficient to give the team any points to take back east.
Rangers may already have the title in the bag but match after match they prove that they still have plenty worth playing for and there is little the rest of the league can do about it.
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