Rangers' pursuit of a remarkable quadruple remains on, but their margin for domestic error decreased significantly at Easter Road yesterday. Less than three days after sweating their way to a penalty shoot-out victory at Fiorentina to reach the Uefa Cup final, Rangers took the game to Hibernian in the second half here, but too many of Walter Smith's players looked as if Thursday night was still in their system.
In the circumstances an entertaining 0-0 draw against a Hibs side with their own Uefa Cup qualification aspirations is acceptable but the equation for Rangers now is: five to play and, assuming Celtic win their remaining two matches, five to win.
With three games in hand, Rangers are seven points behind Celtic but Rangers' inferior goal difference of eight means that another draw in the run-in is likely to hand a decisive advantage to Gordon Strachan's team. Some of that goal difference would be whittled away by wins in their next two games, as Motherwell visit Ibrox on Wednesday and Dundee United go to Glasgow on Saturday; Celtic would then host Hibs on Sunday with Rangers' breathing down their necks.
But the sheer number of fixtures could get to Smith's squad and the weekend news that their Uefa Cup opponents Zenit St Petersburg have had their domestic games cancelled before Wednesday week in Manchester is, as Smith said drily, "obviously disappointing". Rangers are dismayed that no equivalent measures have been proposed by either the SPL or the Scottish Football Association. "People have made it clear they are not going to help us," Smith said.
With a bit more direct action, Mixu Paatelainen's side might have harmed Rangers more than they did. It was past the hour before Filipe Morais struck Hibs' first shot on target.
Carlos Cuellar forced a first-half save before picking up a one-match suspension for a booking. Late on, Cuellar then squandered Rangers' last opening. So, two points dropped and, with Smith accepting there can be "no more slip-ups", Rangers enter a tunnel of seven games in 21 days.
Hibernian (4-1-4-1) McNeil; McCann, Canning, Jones, Murray; Chisholm; Morais (O'Brien, 86), Shiels, Rankin, Campbell (Donaldson, 75); Fletcher. Substitutes not used: Kalambay (gk), Kerr, Benjelloun, Zarabi, Stevenson.
Rangers (4-4-2) Alexander; K Broadfoot, Cuellar, Weir, Papac (Boyd, 77); Davis, Ferguson, Dailly, Thomson; Novo, Cousin (Darcheville, 86). Substitutes not used: Smith (gk), Faye, Lennon, Emslie, Loy.
Referee: C Murray.
Booked: Hibernian McCann Rangers Cuellar, Dailly, Thomson.
Man of the match: Rankin.
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