Seriously, can these two teams play every week?
This game added further weight to the question of why the first contest between these sides, a five-goal thriller with a healthy slice of controversy, wasn’t broadcast live by either BT or Sky. Just like that game, this was always likely to be a highly-entertaining encounter between two attacking teams and it didn’t disappoint.
It was played at a frenetic pace throughout, there were a number of stars performers (mostly in green) and countless chances over the 90 minutes. Then there was the Hibs v Rangers factor and the Neil Lennon v Rangers factor, all of which added to the atmosphere inside a sold-out Easter Road.
Then, to top it all off for the neutral, this game had its own piece of controversy. Hibs deserved a penalty and deserved at least an equaliser for their efforts, but given some of the other things which happened on the night - Rangers scoring with their first cohesive attack, Brandon Barker hitting both posts - it’s clear that luck wasn’t smiling favourably upon them.
Best way to attack Rangers is to get in behind them
Hibs were clear in their gameplan from the off. Either get it wide to Martin Boyle, preferably when Declan John is caught upfield, or failing that try to hit Simon Murray or Oli Shaw going in behind the centre-backs. Twice in the opening nine minutes they played ranging crossfield passes to Boyle, which led to crossing opportunities for the winger. They tried to go to him again in the eighth minute, as he got a run on a sleeping John, but Anthony Stokes’ pass was too strong.
Then they tried the other wing. Lewis Stevenson slipped Simon Murray, running behind Bruno Alves into the space vacated by James Tavernier, down the left wing. Inexplicably, Alves gave Murray enough space to front him up, run to the byline inside the six-yard box, turn back and find Lewis Stevenson to score via the aid of a deflection.
Stevenson almost got in behind Tavernier a short-time later, before Paul Hanlon successfully did so, drawing a save from Wes Foderingham. Then came the moment the match turned. Boyle was put through by Shaw and had so much time to pick his shot. All he could manage was to fire it straight at the Rangers goalkeeper, and the hosts failed to create another chance as clear cut the rest of the game.
Rangers’ lack of quality depth is a serious problem
Hibs were able to completely dominate the period between their opener and Rangers’ first goal, in part, because their visitors were forced into an early change. Kenny Miller pulled up holding his hamstring and that was the end of his evening. The most likely candidate, going by recent weeks, to replace the veteran was Carlos Pena. But Graeme Murty would have looked at the game, moving at 110mph, and then looked at the lackadaisical Mexican sitting contentedly on his bench and thought ‘bugger that!’ Instead he introduced Daniel Candeias and moved to a 4-1-4-1.
In the early going, Rangers looked weaked defensively, but they still had a plan going forward. That completely disappeared with the change as they couldn’t get anything going in the opposing third. You could blame Murty for the change of shape, but already missing Graham Dorrans and Ryan Jack, and unable to trust Pena and Niko Kranjcar to perform in such feverish fixture, he wasn’t left with much option.
It would take the visitors over half an hour to get a grip of themselves and to begin competing in Hibs’ half once more. At least when they did, they made it count.
Ofir Marciano is an erratic goalkeeper
The Israeli international is a strange one. He’s capable of producing some miraculous saves, as he did in the wins over Kilmarnock and Dundee (there’s also his stop from Nicky Clark in a match against Dunfermline last season, which I swear must have been one of the best saves of the last decade in any league). However, he’s also been more than a little suspect at a number of the goals Hibs have conceded this term, and there was no doubting his fault for the second on Wednesday night.
When Rangers were under the cosh, which was most of the game, Wes Foderingham bailed them out. For the five minutes Hibs were under pressure, Marciano couldn’t do likewise. In the end that made a big difference on the result.
Graeme Murty showed yet more tactical acumen
Apparently Graeme Murty won’t be considered for the role of Rangers manager. While such a stance makes sense when you take a step back, if he continues to keep winning then it’s one that’s going to be increasingly hard to justify - especially with the fans chanting “there’s only one Graeme Murty” at one point in the second half.
While he initially couldn’t do much to stop the flow of Hibs attacks in the opening period, he did make an astute tactical alteration later in the game, withdrawing Jamie Barjonas for defender David Bates. The latter is fairly inexperienced, especially at the top level, and he’s a little rough around the edges, as we saw with the handball. However, what he’s good at his heading the ball clear, and that’s exactly what Rangers needed.
The visitors were getting killed on the wings and Bates’ arrival not only gave them something to help deal with that in the box, it also enabled the full-backs to push a little closer to the opposing wingers as Rangers went to a 5-4-1. Of course, if the referee rightly point to the spot for Bates’ handball, then Murty looks like a fool for the change. But history is written by the winners.