Rangers served notice of their intent to go toe-to-toe with Celtic at the top of the Premiership this season with a crushing defeat of a Hibernian side reduced to 10 men early in the second half.
The margin of victory didn’t flatter Steven Gerrard’s side who were utterly dominant even before Sean Mackie’s dismissal for a second bookable offence.
Jermain Defoe’s deadly hat-trick was complemented by a double from Alfredo Morelos who replaced the veteran striker in the closing stages as Hibs were run completely ragged. Daryl Horgan had given brief encouragement to Paul Heckingbottom’s team when he pulled them back to just 2-1 behind at the break but this was an afternoon they will want to forget quickly.
It is the first time since 2010 that Rangers have won their first two top flight matches of the season as they joined Celtic as the only other side with maximum points.
Rangers had won only two of their previous nine league meetings with Hibs coming into this contest and the three draws between the pair last season were a significant factor in the lack of consistency which prevented a genuine title challenge in Gerrard’s first campaign in charge.
His team set out to assert their authority from the off and should have been out of sight long before Horgan pulled Hibs back into contention at the break.
The slender lead Rangers took with them into Gerrard’s half-time team talk was scarcely credible, given the level of dominance the hosts had enjoyed.
Defoe’s intelligent movement and positional sense in and around the penalty area caused palpitations in the Hibs defence throughout. The 36-year-old should have made the breakthrough in the third minute, only for his first touch to let him down slightly as he latched onto Connor Goldson’s through ball, giving Ofir Marciano time to race off his line and make a smothering save.
But Defoe only had to wait another six minutes to put Rangers in front, displaying the kind of predatory instincts which have served him so well throughout his career. Marciano seemed to be deceived by the movement on a long range effort from Sheyi Ojo, the Hibs ‘keeper twisting in the air to beat it away with his left hand.
Before the Hibs defence could react, Defoe seized on the loose ball and slotted it beyond the helpless Marciano.
The visitors continued to try and press the game as high as possible but it was an approach which simply provided Rangers with ample space to exploit in behind them. They did that to devastating effect when they made it 2-0 in the 15th minute.
Jordan Jones surged down the right, shrugging off a couple of challenges before finding Ojo close to the byeline. The Liverpool loanee swept the ball towards the near post when Defoe was alive to the opportunity once more as he flicked a fine finish past Marciano.
Rangers were very much in the mood and the number of chances they created was only matched by the number of bookings John Beaton handed out. The referee produced his yellow card no fewer than six times in the first 32 minutes - four cautions for Hibs, two for Rangers - while bemusing both sides by failing to similarly punish other challenges which looked more severe.
Marciano prevented Rangers from putting the outcome beyond much reasonable doubt before the break, the Israeli making smart saves to keep out a Goldson header and then a stinging free-kick from Tavernier as Gerrard’s men maintained the high tempo and intensity of their play.
Marciano came to Hibs’ rescue again when he brilliantly denied Defoe a hat-trick goal in the 35th minute, showing great reactions to divert the striker’s close range shot over the bar. Five minutes later, it looked like a potentially pivotal intervention as Hibs pulled a goal back.
Scott Allan, whose every touch was jeered by the home fans, split the Rangers defence with a sublime through ball which sent Horgan racing clear on goal. The Irishman was coolness personified as he placed his low shot beyond the advancing Allan McGregor.
For the first time, a degree of uncertainty creeped into Rangers’ work and Horgan wasn’t too far away from an equaliser when he flicked a cute header over from close range after the hosts failed to clear a corner three minutes into the second half.
But Hibs’ hopes of a recovery suffered a setback with Mackie’s dismissal in the 55th minute. One of those booked during Beaton’s first half flurry of yellow cards, the young defender collected his second of the afternoon when he used his arm to cut out a Joe Aribo through ball on the edge of the penalty area.
Heckingbottom, who had started the second half with Fraser Murray on in place of Joe Newell, immediately sacrificed Horgan as he introduced David Gray in a bid to shore up his backline.
Rangers took a while to enforce their numerical advantage, with Defoe and Tavernier both passing up decent chances, but their relentless pressure finally told in the 74th minute. It was a sweet moment for Defoe as he claimed his first hat-trick in a Rangers jersey, heading home from close range after a surging run and precise cross from the right by Steven Davis.
Defoe was immediately replaced by Morelos, receiving a standing ovation as he left the pitch. The focus of the home fans’ adulation quickly switched to Morelos as the substitute made it 4-1 with his first contribution. Sweeping beyond Paul Hanlon and Josh Vela, Morelos beat Marciano at the keeper’s near post with a powerful right foot shot.
Still Hibs’ misery wasn’t over. Rangers kept their foot to the pedal, Morelos latching onto Greg Stewart’s pass in the 89th minute and producing a carbon copy of his earlier finish, before Ojo completed the rout in stoppage time when his close range shot was deflected in off Gray.