Hibs’ display at Ibrox ended in a loss that saw them drop to fourth place in the league. But the way they played lifted spirits and reinforced the belief that they are capable of pushing for more in the second half of the season.
Against the Premiership pacesetters, who have a 100 per cent home league record, Jack Ross’ men challenged that dominance and, had referee Willie Collum taken a different view of the second half penalty incident and punished Ianis Hagi for a high boot, Hibs would have had a spot-kick and the chance to earn their just reward from a game they contributed much to.
“I think it is one of those, if it is on the half-way line it is a foul all day long,” said Hibs’ midfielder, Joe Newell, the man who almost went head to toe with the Romanian match winner’s boot. “I have gone in to head it and I think he has booted the other side of the ball so I don’t know if there is actual contact but if there is a high boot, it is dangerous play, and it is a free-kick anywhere else on the pitch. But, because it is a penalty I think the ref is a wee bit more nervous to give it.
“He said I had ducked down but I don’t know. Referees have a tough job but if it is on the halfway line, he probably gives it.
“There was a shout from a corner as well [when Jamies Tavernier dunted Ryan Porteous] but to get results here you need to play well, get a wee bit of luck and decisions have to go your way and we didn’t get them.”
The Englishman, who seems to grow as a player and an influence with every game, again took responsibility in the middle of the park, accepting the ball deep and driving forward, and Hibs must be desperate to extend his contract.
Decisions didn’t go their way but the capital side tried to make their own luck and didn’t just sit in, terrified at what Rangers may do. Instead, they were brave enough to try to soak up whatever was thrown at them and bold enough to leave themselves with an outlet to hit them on the counter.
That worked for most of the first half, when the home side dominated possession but had clear cut chances limited by the defensive discipline, perseverance, and industry of their guests.
Steven Gerrard’s men did take the lead, thanks to Hagi’s close range finish in the 32nd minute, and Dillon Barnes, deputising in goal for the injured Ofir Marciano, pulled off fabulous reaction saves both sides of the interval but Hibs did not crumble and emerged for the second half determined to put the home side on the back foot as they assumed the initiative.
“I don’t see too many of Rangers’ games here at Ibrox but I can’t imagine that there are too many where they are protecting the ball in the corner and wasting time in the last five minutes,” said Newell. “That is not a dig but I think it shows some respect to us and how we played in the second-half.”