Rangers have restored their 20-point lead at the top of the Scottish Premiership after a comfortable 2-1 win over Hibs at Ibrox to set the Gers up for next weekend’s Old Firm clash with Celtic in the Scottish Cup.
The Light Blues made five changes from the win over Cove Rangers in the Scottish Cup last weekend as Allan McGregor, Borna Barisic, Joe Aribo, Ryan Kent and Alfredo Morelos returned to the starting XI, while Leon Balogun missed out completely after suffering an injury in training yesterday.
Steven Gerrard’s side were right out of the blocks looking for an opener, Aribo’s cross somehow evading everyone in the box and Patterson’s run from deep causing problems as the hosts made all the early chances.
After controlling the opening ten minutes, Rangers started to let Hibs get into the game and the Hibees almost nicked one as Christian Doidge tried to intercept an Allan McGregor-bound backpass, with the Gers keeper managing to evade the danger.
With little at stake for Rangers, there was a definite end-of-season feel to the game from both sides but there was little from Hibs to threaten the Gers as they dominated possession without creating any clear-cut chances to open the deadlock.
When one did come, the assistant’s flag ended up sparing Hibs’ blushes as Morelos fired the ball goalwards and Roofe tapped it home from an offside position to leave the officials no decision to chop it off.
That seemed to spark Rangers into life with Roofe forcing a smart save from Marciano from close range before Joe Aribo eventually volleyed home to open the scoring and give Rangers a deserved lead.
The Nigerian international’s finish was top quality as he drilled the ball beyond Marciano and into the back of the net after some excellent work to keep the move alive.
— Rangers Football Club (@RangersFC) April 11, 2021
Despite the lack of tempo, there were some real positives for Rangers in the opening 30 minutes as Morelos continued to show fantastic link-up play with the likes of Roofe and Nathan Patterson shone down the right.
Down the opposite flank, Hibs started to get some joy through Martin Boyle as the trio of Barisic, Kamara and Kent struggled to get on the same wavelength defensively and close the gaps down Rangers’ left and deny the Australian the space to move into and threaten.
Rangers were still good value for their lead as the first half neared its conclusion, but there were a couple of hairy moments as Hibs looked for an equaliser before the interval; Nisbet having a couple of shots at goal and Paul Hanlon going close from a corner.
The Gers got in at the break with their lead intact though, giving Gerrard the chance to freshen things up a little and work with his players before the emerged for the second 45.
Hibs had the feeling there was something up for grabs and started the second half on the front foot, pressing Rangers high and forcing the Gers into mistakes in possession as they looked to get a second goal.
It certainly wasn’t the start Rangers will have had in mind after the break, but they finally started to get to grips with things after ten minutes or so and thought they’d found the opening they’d been looking for when Kent burst through the Hibs defense but he couldn’t finish it off.
The Rangers number 14 did get his name on the scoresheet a few minutes later though – and what a goal it was from the wideman as he netted his 12th goal of the season and killed any hopes of a Hibs fightback.
After picking the ball up wide on the right, Kent drove inside and after beating a couple of men, then unleashed an unstoppable effort into the bottom corner to double Rangers’ lead.
With 20 minutes left, and likely one on next weekend’s Old Firm, Gerrard turned to his subs as he brought Ianis Hagi and Scott Arfield on for Alfredo Morelos and Joe Aribo.
The visitors grabbed themselves a lifeline with just over 10 minutes left when Nisbet headed home after beating Connor Goldson to the ball and nodding McGinn’s cross beyond McGregor.
That would set up a nervy finale as the Capital side looked to grab a point but the Light Blues were able to see the result out, throwing Bongani Zungu and Cedric Itten in place of Steven Davis and Kemar Roofe, as they picked up another three points and move to within four games of finishing the league season unbeaten.
It was far from a classic but getting the win over the line and kicking off the post-split fixtures with three points was the most important thing for Rangers.
Rangers: McGregor, Patterson, Goldson, Helander, Barisic, Kamara, Davis, Aribo, Kent, Roofe, Morelos
Subs: McLaughlin, Bassey, Simpson, Hagi, Itten, Zungu, Stewart, Arfield, Wright
Hibs: Marciano, McGinn, Hanlon, Porteous, Doig, Gogic, Irvine, Newell, Boyle, Doidge, Nisbet
Subs: Macey, Magennis, Gray, Wright, Stevenson, Cadden, Hallberg, McGregor, Laidlaw
Here’s how Rangers fans reacted before kick-off when Gerrard’s starting XI was confirmed on Twitter