How Rangers passed sternest league test for some time with win over Hibs
Not even Storm Bella could blow Rangers off course as they maintained their unbending progress in the title race with a hard-earned victory against Hibs at Ibrox.
In horrible conditions, Ianis Hagi’s first-half goal proved sufficient for Steven Gerrard’s team to rack up a 12th consecutive Premiership victory as they continue to enjoy a commanding lead at the top of the table.
It wasn’t a vintage display from Rangers and it wasn’t without its worrying moments for Gerrard as his players were forced to dig deep in the second half against a Hibs side more eager to go toe-to-toe with them as the afternoon progressed.
But it was exactly the kind of performance and result which is the hallmark of any title-winning squad.
Nullifying Hibs’ threat
Gerrard was more conservative with his team selection than has been the case for much of the season, making just one change to his starting line-up from the 3-0 midweek win at St Johnstone.
Leon Balogun replaced Filip Helander in central defence, Gerrard looking to the greater pace of the Nigerian international to try and nullify the threat Hibs carry on the counter attack.
But Rangers could easily have found themselves trailing inside the opening minute as the visitors spurned an excellent chance created by Josh Doig finding space down the left in behind James Tavernier all too easily from the hosts’ perspective.
The youngster whipped over an inviting cross which found Martin Boyle at the back post but the Australian was unable to direct his close range shot on target as he stretched to connect.
Slow start – then lots of pressure
It took Rangers a while to build up a head of steam in their attacking third of the pitch, providing Dillon Barnes with some settling-in time as the on-loan QPR goalkeeper made his first league start for Hibs in place of the injured Ofir Marciano.
Barnes responded well to his first test, collecting a cross from Borna Barisic confidently while under pressure from Kemar Roofe.
Rangers were soon dominating possession and hemming Hibs in for lengthy spells. As the pressure intensified, Hibs were forced into some desperate but effective defending.
When Balogun was picked out by neat play from the impressive Joe Aribo, his shot beat Barnes but was hoofed clear just in front of the line by Paul McGinn. There was another close call for Hibs in the 25th minute when Tavernier’s corner found Connor Goldson unmarked. The big defender would feel he should have done better with his close range header which went straight at Barnes who was able to parry it before Doig booted the ball to safety.
Hagi was keen to get involved as much as possible, regularly drifting in from the right to join in the play. He was unfortunate to see a well worked shot drift narrowly wide of Barnes’ right hand post in the 31st minute but was rewarded for his clever movement when he put Rangers ahead two minutes later.
Aribo and Glen Kamara combined to find some space on the left and work the ball into the feet of Roofe inside the penalty area. The English forward drilled a low cross through Ryan Porteous to pick out Hagi who had stolen a yard on Paul Hanlon and slotted the ball home from around six yards.
Boyle dragged a shot just wide of Allan McGregor’s right hand post as Hibs almost caught Rangers napping just after the restart. But there was no doubt Gerrard’s men fully merited their advantage at the interval.
Hibs were more progressive in the early stages of the second half, although there was little to concern either goalkeeper in a tepid opening 15 minutes.
The temperature rose a notch or two in the 61st minute when Hibs had a penalty appeal ignored by referee Willie Collum when Hagi caught Joe Newell with a high boot as he acrobatically cleared a corner kick.
Rangers threatened to double their lead two minutes later but McGinn did well to block a shot from Ryan Kent who was finding it difficult to escape the particularly close attention he was being paid by the Hibs defence.
The game suddenly opened up and after Balogun’s close range shot from a Tavernier corner was kept out by a fine save from Barnes, Hibs mounted a swift response which saw Goldson cover the ground well to block off Boyle inside the penalty area.
McGregor to the rescue
The contest was very much in the balance and Hibs came close to levelling in the 73rd minute when a cross from the excellent Newell found Kevin Nisbet on the right of the six yard box from where the striker screwed his shot wide of McGregor’s right hand post.
As Hibs committed more players forward, Rangers looked increasingly uncomfortable at the back and McGregor had to make a tremendous save low to his left to keep out a curling shot from Melker Hallberg.
Rangers were forced to replace Scott Arfield just six minutes after he replaced Hagi, the Canadian international midfielder limping off in some discomfort.
Substitute Alfredo Morelos did well to hold the ball up in the closing stages for Rangers to see out the victory which he almost made more comfortable in stoppage time when he broke clear in tandem with Kent and forced another decent stop from Barnes.
Rangers (4-3-3): McGregor, Tavernier, Goldson, Balogun, Barisic; Aribo, Davis, Kamara; Hagi (Arfield 76) (Zungu 82), Roofe (Morelos 82), Kent. Subs not used: McLaughlin, Bassey, Helander, Barker, Defoe, Itten.
Hibernian (3-5-2): Barnes, P.McGinn, Porteous, Hanlon; Wright (Gullan 83), Gogic, Newell, Hallberg, Doig; Boyle, Nisbet. Subs not used: Samson, Gray, McGregor, Stevenson, S.McGinn, Bradley.
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