Rangers’ bid to exert maximum pressure on Celtic in the title race ahead of Saturday’s Old Firm showdown was stalled by familiarly troublesome opponents as Hibs struck late to plunder a precious point at Ibrox.
The identity of the visitors’ goalscorer, former Rangers defender Darren McGregor, only served to make it an even more indigestible Boxing Day result for the home fans.
Hibs have now lost just one of their last nine meetings with Rangers and the travelling support savoured another enjoyable day out in Govan as McGregor’s 86th-minute header cancelled out Alfredo Morelos’ 20th goal of the season which had put Steven Gerrard’s men ahead in the first half.
It saw Rangers slip three points behind champions Celtic, who have a played a game less, at the top of the Premiership table.
It had been some time since Hibs arrived at Ibrox with a sense of foreboding. Having won on their two previous visits to the stadium under Neil Lennon, they brought a positive mindset to a contest which began at breakneck pace.
The speed of Martin Boyle, one of the three Australian internationals whose services will be denied Lennon for the Edinburgh derby this weekend, was a key component in an adventurous opening from the away side.
Boyle, whose battle with Rangers left-back Andy Halliday was one of the more intriguing aspects of the afternoon, carved out the first opening in the fourth minute. After Daniel Candeias had conceded possession cheaply for Rangers, Boyle found space on the right to whip over a fine cross.
It was met by a diving header from Emerson Hyndman but the on-loan Bournemouth midfielder, who previously had a spell at Rangers, sent his effort just wide of Allan McGregor’s left-hand post.
It was a predictably feisty affair and Rangers felt referee Andrew Dallas should have produced his yellow card as early as the seventh minute when Stevie Mallan was late with a challenge which left Lassana Coulibaly sprawled on the turf.
The first sight of goal for Gerrard’s men came from a 13th minute free-kick by captain James Tavernier which picked out Connor Goldson but the big defender’s header was comfortably saved by Adam Bogdan.
Rangers gradually managed to force themselves onto the front foot but it was an error from Hibs which contributed to Morelos making the breakthrough. McGregor’s poor attempt to clear the ball saw it rebound off Candeias and run into the path of the Colombian striker. He displayed admirable composure as he raced through and drilled a low right-foot shot beyond Bogdan’s right hand into the corner of the net.
Hibs responded well and it needed a smart double save from Rangers keeper McGregor to prevent them equalising in the 30th minute. Jamie Maclaren’s pass found Boyle with plenty of time and space on the right hand side of the penalty area but his firm shot was parried by McGregor. When Rangers were unable to clear, the ball broke for Florian Kamberi whose overhead kick was beaten away by the Ibrox keeper.
The hosts had the chance to double their lead four minutes later when the Hibs defence were caught flat-footed by a rapid counter-attack. Glenn Middleton, pictured, sprinted clear through the middle but couldn’t engineer a shooting position. The ball broke to Halliday whose optimistic claim for a penalty as he went down under Boyle’s covering challenge was dismissed by referee Dallas.
There were injury problems for both teams in the closing stages of the first half. Lewis Stevenson was replaced by Sean Mackie for Hibs, while Goldson limped off at the interval for Rangers. The former Brighton man was able to resume his place at the heart of the Rangers defence after the break but didn’t appear entirely comfortable.
Hibs carved out an opportunity to draw level inside the first 60 seconds of the second half, Kamberi finding time and space on the left of the area to steady himself and unleash a powerful shot which flew narrowly over.
Rangers stepped up their efforts to find the insurance of a second goal and Coulibaly should have done better than head over from close range after he was picked out by a perfectly weighted cross from the right by Candeias.
Goldson finally succumbed to his injury just after the hour mark when he was replaced by Nikola Katic. While Rangers were now largely enjoying territorial advantage, the match remained very much in the balance. Bogdan ensured it remained that way going into the closing stages as he displayed excellent reflexes to touch a fierce and dipping half-volley from Ryan Jack over his crossbar, then reacted well to keep out a Middleton shot.
The value of the goalkeeper’s contributions were maximised when Hibs struck to claim a point with four minutes remaining. It was a well worked goal from their perspective, Mallan picking out Mackie on the left with a fine crossfield pass. The substitute’s cross was met with a firm header from McGregor and although Allan McGregor got a hand to the ball, he was unable to keep it out.
Bogdan was then called into action once more as Rangers tried to repair the damage, diving to his right to keep out Kyle Lafferty’s stinging 20-yard shot as Hibs held on to a morale-boosting point.