Jelavic wakes Rangers from their slumber
Hibernian 0 Rangers 2
Sunday 11 December 2011
The monotony had to be overcome first, and Nikica Jelavic (right) came to be a source of salvation. There was so little to separate the grinding application of the two sides, the rhythm of a game that lacked any form of invention, that his goals were the result of bloody-mindedness, of sheer perseverance.
This was a trial for Rangers, of their self-esteem as much as their conviction. The team have performed with little speed of thought or penetration in recent weeks, and have been dropping points with a grim helplessness. They still lead the Scottish Premier League, but confidence might have been fragile as this encounter became limited by its toil.
It took until the 43rd minute for a shot on target, but even then Leigh Griffiths, the Hibernian striker, scuffed his effort from close range, allowing Allan McGregor to save. Rangers, with Lee McCulloch, Kyle Bartley and Maurice Edu in central midfield had been forceful but lacking the kind of ingenuity to prise out any openings for Jelavic, who was playing on his own up front. "I felt sorry for him up there," admitted McCulloch.
The visitors made a greater effort to support the Croatian in the second half, but it still required a moment of rashness to enable a breakthrough. A hopeful ball deep into the penalty area caused Lee Wallace, the Rangers full-back, and Michael Hart, the Hibs defender, to grapple, with the former tumbling to the ground. "I thought it wasn't a penalty," Hart protested. Jelavic confidently tucked the spot-kick past Graham Stack, the Hibs goalkeeper.
The goal brought some composure to Rangers' play, but also caused the game to open out. In his first home game in charge of Hibs, Pat Fenlon sought to encourage and cajole his players, but their indecision at set-pieces infuriated him. Eight minutes after the penalty, Gregg Wylde slung over a corner kick that Jelavic converted at the back post. "I'm disappointed, but there were positives to take out of it," Fenlon said.
His side almost struck back, when Paul Hanlon's cross diverted off Steven Whittaker, demanding an agile save from McGregor. The afternoon, though, belonged to Jelavic, who is being tracked by Premier League sides. "It shows how important he is to the club," said the Rangers manager, Ally McCoist. "I'd rather my players were playing well and attracting attention than not." Asked if it will be his call if offers come in, he added: "Absolutely – I don't think there is any doubt about that."
Hibernian (4-2-3-1): Stack; Hart (Galbraith, 72), O'Hanlon, Stephens, Hanlon; Wotherspoon, Stevenson; Griffiths (Caldwell, 89), Osbourne, Sproule; O'Connor (Sodje, 89).
Rangers (4-2-3-1): McGregor; Whittaker, Goian, Bocanegra, Wallace; McCulloch, Bartley (Bendiksen, 56); Davis, Edu (Ortiz, 89), Wylde; Jelavic.
Referee: Iain Brines
Man of the match: Jelavic (Rangers)
Victor Wanyama's first goal for Celtic, midway through the second half against Hearts, gave second-placed Celtic a narrow 1-0 win, Hoops goalkeeper Fraser Forster's penalty save keeping the points intact, while Motherwell, third, won 3-0 at St Johnstone.
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