Story of Rangers 2 Hibs 1: Ryan Porteous red card pivotal as Steven Gerrard reaction says it all
Punching the air with delight and saluting the fans in all four stands at Ibrox, the Rangers manager was perhaps as animated as he has been since the title was celebrated at the stadium back in May.
In a season when his team has struggled to rediscover their optimum form, they are often having to rely on other characteristics. That was the case here as they displayed patience and perseverance to recover from Kevin Nisbet’s eighth minute opener for Hibs.
Who knows how the afternoon might have panned out for Jack Ross’ team had Ryan Porteous not been sent off after just half an hour, seriously complicating their own bid to ascend the summit of the table.
There was much for Ross to be satisfied about in the way his team preserved their lead until the hour mark but ultimately frustration would be his overriding emotion as goals from Kemar Roofe and Alfredo Morelos handed Hibs their first league defeat of the campaign.
Nisbet’s early breakthrough had provided the Easter Road men with a reward for adopting an enterprising approach from the start as they looked to take the game to their hosts whenever possible.
The Scotland international striker’s fourth goal of the season was taken in consummate style as he guided a precise header beyond the helpless Allan McGregor from Chris Cadden’s cross from the right.
From Rangers’ perspective, it was another poorly conceded goal with Cadden given too much time and space to deliver the ball after he had gathered it from a weak attempted clearance by Leon Balogun.
As Rangers looked for a rapid response, Morelos should have got on the end of a Borna Barisic cross two minutes later but mistimed his jump as the chance eluded him.
While Rangers dominated possession, Hibs were comfortably subduing them while still with a full complement of players. If anything, the visitors looked likely to add to their lead on the counter with the pace of Martin Boyle always a threat.
Right on the half hour, Nisbet almost played Boyle but when that attack broke down it led to Porteous taking his early leave of proceedings. In trying to halt a Rangers counter, he went into a challenge on Joe Aribo far too forcefully for the liking of referee Nick Walsh who went straight to his top pocket for the red card.
Hibs sacrificed Scott Allan, replacing him with Darren McGregor to reinforce a defence which predictably found itself with much more to do for the remainder of the first half.
Balogun wasted Rangers’ clearest chance to equaliser before the break, sliding a shot wide of Matt Macey’s right hand post.
Gerrard’s men were guilty of over-elaborating in and around the Hibs’ penalty box at times, some players curiously reluctant to attempt a shot at goal from decent positions.
Hibs did well to scramble a dangerous low cross from Nathan Patterson behind for a corner before Scott Wright could force the ball home but Macey remained untroubled.
There was a more direct approach from Rangers at the start of the second half with Barisic and Lundstram both having a go from distance as the pressure was cranked up on the Hibs’ backline.
On the afternoon when Rangers welcomed members of the Armed Forces to Ibrox, it was now a case of all hands on deck at the back for Hibs, something Nisbet embraced when he did well to divert a shot from Morelos over his own crossbar.
With a defensively minded midfielder a luxury Rangers could scarcely afford in the circumstances, Glen Kamara was withdrawn in the 55th minute and replaced by Roofe.
The change paid a quick dividend as the Jamaican international striker grabbed the equaliser five minutes later. Patterson’s delivery wasn’t always of the highest standard during the contest but the teenage right-back produced a beauty to pick out the unmarked Roofe who claimed his sixth goal of the season with a firm and precise header beyond Macey.
The big goalkeeper then made a fine save to keep out a stinging shot from Ianis Hagi as Hibs, understandably tiring, were forced to defend ever deeper.
There was now a sense of inevitability about a winning goal for Rangers and it duly arrived in the 78th minute. Again, it was a cross from a full-back which Hibs were unable to defend properly, this time curled in from the left by Barisic.
Morelos rose to meet it with a downward header which Macey, scrambling to his left, was unable to prevent from squirming over the line. It was a 99th goal in Rangers colours for the Colombian, although only his second in the league this season.
Five minutes of stoppage time provided a nervy finale for the 49,125 crowd with a gutsy Hibs side providing a couple of anxious moments as they earned free-kicks in dangerous positions just outside the Rangers penalty area which they were unable to capitalise upon.
Rangers (4-2-3-1): McGregor, Patterson, Goldson, Balogun, Barisic; Lundstram, Kamara (Roofe 55); Hagi, Aribo (Bacuna 79), Wright (Davis 79); Morelos. Subs not used: McLaughlin, Tavernier, Bassey, Sakala.
Hibernian (3-4-1-2): Macey, McGinn, Porteous, Hanlon; Cadden (Murphy 82), Allan (McGregor 33), Doyle-Hayes (Gogic 75), Doig; Newell; Boyle, Nisbet. Subs not used: Dabrowski, Stevenson, Scott, Wright.
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