A lacklustre Hibernian side conceded three and had a man sent off as they were decisively beaten by title-chasing Rangers.
Early goals from Ryan Kent and Joe Aribo put the away side in control at Easter Road, before Jermain Defoe’s second half strike made it safe. A bad evening for the home team became even worse when Ryan Porteous was sent off for a dangerous tackle on Borna Barisic on the hour mark, and by the final whistle the home fans had left in droves, disgusted by what they perceived to be a lack of effort on the part of their players.
Hibs came into the game in sixth place, their fortunes revived by the arrival of Jack Ross as manager last month. The visitors were in second, five points behind leaders Celtic but with a game in hand. With both Ross and Rangers coach Steven Gerrard selecting attacking line-ups, goals seemed a given on a chilly evening in Leith.
As with any match day in these parts, the roads were filled with green. This time, along with the usual emerald scarves of the home supporters, could be seen watchful smatterings of neon. The notoriously boisterous Rangers fans were in town, and the increased police presence in the Edinburgh streets gave this match a ‘big game’ atmosphere. This notion was reinforced by the volume produced by both sets of fans at kick-off, the chants taking a sectarian flavour in a game contested between sides with very different fanbases. For every time the away crowd pulled out ‘Rule Britannia’, you could count on the Hibees responding with a Scottish nationalist tune to stoke the tension.
Ross’s side were unchanged from their defeat to Celtic, with Rangers bringing in Defoe for the suspended Alfredo Morelos. The combustible Colombian has scored 27 in 33 games in all competitions thus far this season, and there were some concerns that Rangers would be lacking in killer instinct in his absence.
These concerns were put to bed within three minutes, as a moment’s hesitation from home keeper Ofir Marciano, who started despite a recent calf injury, allowed the visiting team to open the scoring. Charged down by Joe Aribo, Marciano’s eventual clearance was diverted into the feet of Ryan Kent, who made no mistake with the goal unoccupied.
Hibs responded aggressively, Flo Kamberi firing into the side netting from a tricky angle, but 1-0 became 2-0 with eight minutes gone. This time, it was Aribo with the goal, slotting in with his left foot from Ryan Jack’s cross.
After that, the Gers became increasingly dominant, Defoe having a shot deflected over the bar on 12 minutes and Kent prevented from adding to his tally a few minutes later. Aribo, the other goalscorer, also had a good opportunity on 22 minutes, but his strike was smartly saved by the outstretched leg of Marciano.
Mocking chants from the Rangers crowd rang around the ground, met only with a muted response from their counterparts in green. The exception was a single Hibee who stood and, in a futile show of defiance, raised two fingers towards the away end.
All the while, Hibs’s midfield was seemingly nonexistent, their strikers marooned on the halfway line. On the half hour mark, Martin Boyle fizzed a shot towards Allan McGregor’s goal, the Scottish keeper getting a crucial fingertip to the ball. That fingertip escaped the referee’s attention, and the man in black gave a Rangers goal kick, to the fury of the fans from Leith.
In short, the away team, playing in red for the night, just looked hungrier, with Kent a standout in a uniformly impressive team. On 35 minutes, Rangers captain James Tavernier flashed a cross across the six-yard box, no finishing touch forthcoming. By half-time, the result seemed a foregone conclusion.
Knowing that he needed to make changes for the second period, Ross brought on Vykintas Slivka and Daryl Horgan at the interval, the latter making an instant impact as he sent in a cross which just evaded the inside of McGregor’s post.
Just as Hibs were gaining confidence, Rangers grabbed a third, all but killing the game. Defoe, who had already scored a hat trick against the hosts back in August, brought the ball down brilliantly, brushed aside Jason Naismith, and fired past a helpless Marciano.
As the clock struck 60, Hibs were reduced to ten, as Porteous’s wild and high lunge left Barisic in agony. More red cards were shown as a scuffle erupted in the dugout, coaching staff from both teams being sent to the stands. As the Hibs man trudged off and Barisic received treatment, home supporters launched bottles and missiles at the stricken Croatian left back. This had now become an ugly episode for Hibernian FC, on-pitch mediocrity matched by appalling conduct in the stands.
Rangers could have gone for the kill, but Gerrard’s outfit instead chose to slow things down, toying with the Hibs’s defence and keeping the ball with ease. The chances became scarcer but the Glasgow side remained in absolute control.
Easter Road, save for a packed away end, was now emptying out. Marciano made another good save on 84 minutes, still desperate to atone for his early mistake, but few Hibs fans were around to appreciate it. The final whistle was acknowledged only by the jubilant Gers, while, with only one win in their last five, Hibs’s new manager bounce has come and gone. Ahead of their derby fixture against Hearts on Boxing Day, things aren’t looking great on Leith, not least with Porteous now suspended.
After the match, Ross admitted that the red card was justified and that his team simply must do better. Gerrard claimed vindication, declaring, in reference to Morelos, that his team were not a ‘one-man band’. He was pleased with his squad depth, and insisted that there will be ‘more outgoings than incomings’ in next month’s transfer window. His team are now breathing down Celtic’s necks, while Hibs are only a good run of form away from challenging for Europe. On this showing, however, that run of form may be far from imminent.
Image: Conrad Maddox