Rangers secured a priceless three points in Edinburgh tonight with a 2-0 win over Hibernian courtesy of goals from Barry Ferguson and Claudio Caniggia.
The victory – Rangers’ third at Easter Road this season – retains a three-point lead for the Light Blues at the start of the second-half of the season.
Rangers made just the one change from the side that had won at Arbroath on Saturday with Bob Malcolm replacing the injured Lorenzo Amoruso.
Rangers had already won twice in Leith this season, and a third victory was never going to be a foregone conclusion.
Hibs started strongly, with Tom McManus prominent on the right. In eight minutes he skinned Bob Malcolm before firing over a powerful cross that Stefan Klos punched away under pressure. Ian Murray’s drive from the rebound was wide of the target, and Rangers could breathe a little easier.
It took the visitors a long time to settle as they were harried and harassed at every opportunity. Hibs were using the full width of the park to stretch the Ibrox defence, but Craig Moore and Bob Malcolm were rock-solid in the centre.
In a quick break in 34 minutes Shota Arveladze might have done better than head over a Neil McCann cross, but within two minutes Hibs were back on the attack with Maurice Ross doing well to scoop away a threatening Alen Orman cross.
The home fans made a loud appeal for a penalty in 40 minutes when Tom McManus went down under a challenge from Craig Moore, although the Hibs forward appeared to be backing into the defender.
Rangers were perhaps fortunate to reach the sanctity of the dressing-room on level terms, yet within four minutes of the restart they should have snatched the lead when a Fernando Ricksen corner presented Moore with a free header only for ‘Oz’ to send his effort over the bar.
It was now end-to-end action – Grant Brebner released Garry O’Connor in 51 minutes only for the forward to shoot across the face of the goal. Rangers were now a much-improved side from the first-half, and were threatening with every attack.
Nick Colgan had to be alert to cut out a Maurice Ross cross in 54 minutes with both Michael Mols and Neil McCann hovering, then three minutes later Mols saw his drive from a Ricksen corner blocked.
The opening goal was merely delayed however – and when it arrived in 58 minutes it was truly a thing of beauty.
Barry Ferguson – playing a true captain’s role in the middle of the park – drove forward to receive a reverse pass from Ronald De Boer and rifle a right-foot shot into the roof of the net.
There had been certain inevitability about the goal, given Hibs’ first-half pressure, but the home side were far from finished. Within four minutes a Brebner header from a McManus cross forced Stefan Klos into a fine diving save, then Malcolm made a superb last-ditch clearance to deny the inrushing McManus from an Orman cross.
Rangers continued to soak up the Hibernian pressure – an Ian Murray shot from a McManus cross appeared net-bound until it was blocked by a defender in 70 minutes, then inside the closing ten minutes there was an incredible scramble in front of the Rangers’ goal with Klos caught too far off his line and O’Connor threatening before the goalkeeper secured the ball.
The Light Blues secured the points in 85 minutes when Arveladze and McCann carved open the Hibbees defence – Neil’s low ball across the face of goal being turned into the net by substitute Claudio Caniggia.
There still remained time for Gary Smith to be ordered off – deep into injury time, with the game won and lost, he fouled Arthur Numan wide on the touchline. A yellow card for the foul was not enough – Smith continued to argue his case, and received a second yellow and subsequent red for his troubles.
Incredibly it was Smith’s second red card for dissent against Rangers in successive games at Easter Road, and unbelievably the fourth successive fixture at this venue that Hibs have finished a game against Rangers with less than the full compliment of players.
Manager Alex McLeish afterwards expressed his satisfaction with the result:
"It was a fantastic three points. The result was all-important. We upped the tempo in the second-half. Barry Ferguson is an inspiration to the team."
Hibernian Manager Bobby Williamson complained about the referee.
HIBERNIAN Colgan; Smith, Zambernardi, Fenwick (O’Neil 69); Orman, Brebner, Townsley, Wiss, Murray; McManus, O’Connor
UNUSED SUBS Westwater, Jack, Doumbe, Reid
RANGERS Klos; Ross, Moore, Malcolm, Numan; Ricksen, Ferguson, De Boer, McCann; Mols (Caniggia 69), Arveladze
UNUSED SUBS McGregor, Nerlinger, Konterman, McLean
REFEREE Kenny Clark