'Gers restore ten point lead
Rangers restored their ten-point lead in the Championship race with a crucial 3-0 win over Hibernian at Ibrox Stadium this afternoon, an outstanding second-half display producing all three goals.
On a weekend of potentially massive significance to the destination of the title, Hibernian arrived in Govan with the opportunity to move into second place in the SPL in the next four days and within six points of the summit containing three former Ibrox men in their ranks, namely Graeme Smith, Ian Murray and Alan Gow.
Manager Walter Smith meanwhile made two changes from Motherwell with Kevin Thomson and DaMarcus Beasley replacing Kirk Broadfoot and Steven Naismith. The inclusion of Beasley was a surprise, given his two-month absence through injury.
Both sides, aware of the significance of the game, made a cautious start - sizing each other up without posing any significant threat near goal, but soon the Champions were driving forward with Thomson releasing Kenny Miller in eight minutes, the striker firing just over from the edge of the box.
The visitors however gradually began to control the midfield. It was Merouane Zemmama who took the initiative with a surging run in 36 minutes, nullified when he was blocked by Madjid Bougherra.
From the resultant Zemmama corner Paul Hanlon's header was cleared off the line by Sasa Papac.
Rangers did have a strong penalty claim denied in 39 minutes when from Beasley's corner David Weir was pushed in the back by Chris Hogg. To no-one's surprise however Referee Steve Conroy turned a blind eye.
The half ended goalless - and at the interval Walter Smith replaced Beasley, clearly not match-fit, with Kyle Lafferty.
The Ulsterman made an immediate impact - cutting in from the left before testing visiting goalkeeper Smith with a 25-yard shot that was held.
Three minutes later the deadlock was broken when Steven Whittaker surged forward before playing a one-two with Lafferty on the edge of the box - driving the ball into the top corner of the net from some fifteen yards.
The game had changed irrevocably - and the Champions were now in control, although Zemmama did send in a powerful 25-yard drive in 69 minutes from a lay-off from substitute Derek Riordan that Allan McGregor held at the second attempt as it spun towards the line.
Two minutes later the game was won when Boyd netted from the penalty spot after Kenny Miller had been upended by Sol Bamba for an award that not even Steve Conroy could deny.
That was the last act for the striker who was then replaced by Nacho Novo.
The little Spaniard almost made an instantaneous impact when he prodded the ball wide after Bamba had inexplicably left a Miller cross in 75 minutes.
Rangers were rampant now, displaying some superb football, and four minutes later Whittaker's twenty-yard chip from a Novo lay-off was touched over by Smith.
The goalkeeper again defied the Light Blues in 81 minutes when Whittaker's reverse pass freed Davis down the right, his cutback being touched away from the inrushing Novo.
The third goal was merely delayed however - and when it arrived in the dying minutes it was Miller who slotted the ball home after Thomson had dispossessed substitute Kevin McBride.
The final whistle signalled a major step forward for the home side in the defence of their title - and afterwards a satisfied Walter Smith observed:
"We had to work extremely hard and it was a terrific three points. We knew we'd need something special to win the game. It was a terrific advert for Scottish football. We're delighted to have a ten-point lead but nothing can be taken for granted."
RANGERS McGregor; Whittaker, Weir, Bougherra, Papac; Davis, McCulloch, Thomson, Beasley (Lafferty 45); Boyd (Novo 71), Miller
UNUSED SUBS Alexander, Edu, Little, Wilson, Wylde
HIBERNIAN Smith; Hogg, Bamba, Hanlon, Murray; Zemmama (Nish 78), Miller, Rankin (McBride 83), Gow (Riordan 67); Benjelloun, Stokes
UNUSED SUBS Stack, Cregg, Stevenson, Wotherspoon
REFEREE Steve Conroy