Hibs 0-1 Rangers: Story of the match as late Kemar Roofe penalty maintains Giovanni van Bronckhorst's winning start as Ibrox boss
If revenge is indeed a dish best served cold, Rangers gained a measure of it in suitably chilly conditions as they warmed their supporters with a win over Hibs which takes them seven points clear at the top of the Scottish Premiership.
In perhaps the least impressive of the three performances they have delivered under new manager Giovanni van Bronckorst so far, Rangers were rewarded for their resilience and persistence when substitute Kemar Roofe’s 85th minute penalty secured all three points.
It was a sickening blow for Hibs who thought they had done enough for a share of the spoils in a frenetic contest where both sides were short of the optimum standard of which they are capable.
Van Bronckhorst’s 100 per cent winning start as Steven Gerrard’s successor continues and it was a victory savoured by their fans at Easter Road who got the response they demanded after the Premier Sports Cup semi-final defeat against Hibs.
Ten days after that triumph at Hampden, Jack Ross was able to select exactly the same starting line-up which had so effectively got the better of Rangers.
Van Bronckhorst, who had promised a very different version of the Ibrox side would be in evidence this time, made just one change from Sunday’s league win at Livingston as Steven Davis replaced Scott Arfield.
With the veteran Northern Irishman joining Glen Kamara in having a deeper midfield role, it saw Joe Aribo restored to a more advanced central position behind striker Alfredo Morelos.
A slow-burning affair, it was punctuated by too many cheap and clumsy fouls which saw both teams find it difficult to establish any significant rhythm.
The return of Martin Boyle after suspension may have been viewed with trepidation by the Rangers defence after the Australian’s hat-trick heroics against them in the semi-final but there was an early confidence boost for Connor Goldson as he won his first one-on-one duel with the pacy forward.
As the visitors dominated possession, Hibs defended smartly and generally limited them to efforts from distance. Ianis Hagi blazed Rangers’ first attempt over before Hibs goalkeeper Matt Macey looked less than convincing in opting to turn a tame cross-cum-shot from Davis behind.
Boyle got the better of Goldson the next time he was able to take on the big defender, surging into the penalty area, but his shot from a restrictive angle was gathered by the well positioned Allan McGregor.
Rangers have scored more goals from set pieces than any other team in the Premiership so far this season and Goldson might have done better than direct his header from a James Tavernier corner straight at Macey.
There was a more difficult save for Macey when Hagi engineered space to drill in a low shot which the ‘keeper got down smartly to his right to touch wide.
Hibs carried a clear threat whenever they managed to isolate the Rangers central defenders and when Kevin Nisbet turned cleverly away from Goldson, it needed a superb covering challenge from left-back Borna Barisic to prevent Boyle getting on the end of his strike partner’s low cross.
But the best chance of the first half fell to Rangers a minute before the interval. It came from a Hibs corner which saw the visitors launch a sweeping counter-attack. Kamara sent Aribo free down the right and he picked out the unmarked Morelos with a perfect cross.
It was a glorious chance for the Colombian international but he got it all wrong, sending his header well wide of Macey’s right hand post from little more than six yards out.
Hibs made the brighter start to the second half and Barisic showed excellent defensive awareness once more when he blocked a shot from Boyle who had been picked out by a Josh Campbell cross.
It was a good spell for the home team and Rangers were under pressure again when Joe Newell burst into their box on the right and his dangerous cross was scrambled to safety by Goldson.
Rangers were creating less and less in their attacking third of the pitch and van Bronckhorst made a double substitution in the 66th minute, sending on Arfield and Roofe for Davis and Morelos in a bid to provide the lift his team so clearly needed.
Still they continued to find clear cut openings elusive. Ryan Kent, whose decision-making in some promising positions had let him down, did spark into life with a couple of powerful shots from just outside the box. The first was bravely blocked by Ryan Porteous, the second well saved by Macey
Although Rangers had forced themselves back onto the front foot, Hibs continued to look menacing on the break and Chris Cadden came close with a low angled drive which flew narrowly wide of McGregor’s left hand post.
A stalemate looked increasingly likely until a lapse in concentration from Porteous presented Rangers with their opportunity to win it from the spot. The defender protested furiously against the decision but although referee John Beaton took his time in making it, Kent did look to have been clipped as he tried to jink his way beyond Porteous.
Roofe, who has now firmly superseded Tavernier as Rangers’ first choice penalty taker, calmly sent Macey the wrong way with a firm and precise effort for his 10th goal of the season, sparking raucous scenes of celebration among the visiting fans behind the goal.
Hibernian (3-5-2): Macey, McGinn, Porteous, Hanlon; Cadden (Murphy 86), Doyle-Hayes, Campbell (Allan 86), Newell, Doig; Boyle, Nisbet. Subs not used: Dabrowski, Gogic, Stevenson, Scott, Wright.
Rangers (4-2-3-1): McGregor, Tavernier, Goldson, Bassey, Barisic; Davis (Arfield 66), Kamara; Hagi, Aribo, Kent (Lundstram 86); Morelos (Roofe 66). Subs not used: McLaughlin, Patterson, Arfield, Wright, Sakala.
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