Rangers crashed out of the Scottish Cup this afternoon, slumping to a catastrophic 0-3 defeat to Hibernian at Ibrox - a defeat that effectively ends the domestic season for the reigning Champions.
The loss is a total disaster for the Ibrox club - and underlines the absolute folly of Chairman David Murray's lack of action in recent months in firstly failing to remove a failed manager and secondly in failing to make good with his promises of three new players during the January transfer window.
There were huge gaps amongst the travelling support in the Broomloan Road Stand despite Hibs' claim that they could sell all 7,500 tickets.
Manager Alex McLeish made one change from Inverness with Barry Ferguson replacing Alan Hutton against a visiting side that included in the starting line-up both Scott Brown and Kevin Thomson, recently linked with Rangers, and Derek Riordan on the substitute's bench.
Referee Stuart Dougal took just two minutes to produce his first yellow card of the afternoon, booking Kevin Thomson for a foul on Ferguson that eventually forced the substitution of the Hibs' midfielder through injury.
Rangers were making all of the early running - and a mazy run by Chris Burke almost produced the opening goal in ten minutes only for his cutback to be held by Simon Brown with three Rangers' forwards waiting to pounce.
Six minutes later Kris Boyd's flying header from a Thomas Buffel cross was inches wide.
The traffic was all one-way - Boyd's header from a Burke corner being just too high in 22 minutes, but the miss of the match arrived two minutes later when
Peter Lovenkrands somehow headed wide from a Buffel cross.
The threat of a Hibernian counter-attack was ever-present - illustrated on the half-hour when Ivan Sproule (the hat-trick hero of last August) dispossessed Fernando Ricksen before shooting wide of the target.
Simon Brown produced the save of the afternoon in 37 minutes, touching a Bob Malcolm piledriver from 22 yards onto the bar and over.
The half ended goalless - and the worry amongst the 40,722 spectators was that the spectre of Hibs repeating their last smash-and-grab win at Ibrox was looming ever larger - even more so when, four minutes after the restart, Sproule ran at a retreating Ibrox defence before crossing for Garry O'Connor to head
home from close range.
Rangers were denied a stonewall penalty in 51 minutes when Steven Whittaker handled to deny Lovenkrands a clear goalscoring opportunity - but incredibly the
referee waved play on. It was a certain penalty and a red card - and on such a decision the outcome of the game would hinge.
The tie was now running away from the Light Blues - with the Ibrox management gambling four minutes later by replacing Malcolm with Dado Prso, thus leaving the home side open to the counter-attack.
So it proved - for Sproule broke through in 58 minutes from an O'Connor head- flick to ram the ball home.
Two minutes later Sotirios Kyrgiakos headed home from a Lovenkrands cross only for Stuart Dougal to disallow the goal for an alleged foul by Boyd on Simon Brown - although the official was the only man in the ground who spotted an infringement.
Dougal's decisions were becoming more and more erratic - incredibly yellow-carding Ronald Waterreus in 64 minutes for alleged "time-wasting", at a time when his side were 0-2 down.
Rangers' defence however was now an absolute shambles - illustrated vividly in 77 minutes when a Riordan - O'Connor move freed Chris Killen who saw his first
effort blocked by Waterreus before converting the loose ball at the second attempt.
Two minutes later it might have been 4-0 when O'Connor and Riordan sliced through a non-existent Ibrox central defence - the former's effort being turned
wide by Waterreus.
Rangers were out - and a crescendo of booing greeted the final whistle, carried over onto Edmiston Drive where a crowd of several hundred demonstrated against the Ibrox management.
The one man responsible however had long gone - Chairman David Murray, who has led the club into the abyss, was on his way home some time before the final
Afterwards Alex McLeish reflected:
"Hibs took their chances - we didn't. Shoddy defending cost us dear. We've got to keep our heads up - we've shown character to fight back already this season. Some days things just don't go your way."
RANGERS Waterreus; Ricksen, Andrews, Kyrgiakos, Murray; Burke, Ferguson, Malcolm (Prso 55), Buffel; Boyd, Lovenkrands (Novo 82)
UNUSED SUBS Klos, Hutton, Smith
HIBERNIAN Simon Brown; Whittaker, Caldwell, Hogg, Murphy; Fletcher (Riordan 63), Stewart, Thomson (Glass 6), Scott Brown (Killen 58); Sproule, O'Connor
UNUSED SUBS Malkowski, Shields
REFEREE Stuart Dougal