Rangers are not quite back in the top flight of Scottish football just yet but they have secured the ladder. Required now is a play-off victory against Motherwell and Rangers will clamber back up into what was called the SPL when they left it in insolvency and ignominy three years ago.
It is called the Scottish Premiership now. After seeing off the challenge of Hibernian at Easter Road on Saturday, having accounted for Queen of the South in a previous play-off, Rangers will play their fifth and sixth games in three weeks.
Given this season of epic intrigue at Ibrox, much can happen yet and there is already a significant sub-plot in that Rangers’ manager Stuart McCall began this season in charge of Motherwell. The first leg is at Ibrox on Thursday with the return on Sunday.
McCall insisted “it’s not about me” and by Thursday he will be right - at stake in blue is a third promotion and a return of Old Firm derbies, as well as economic improvement.
But this was a Stuart McCall kind of performance. Rangers looked like they might be overwhelmed in the opening 20 minutes by Alan Stubbs’ vivacious Hibs side, led by the excellent Scott Allan. But they rode their luck, dug in and by the end were a tenacious presence. One Everton old boy manager overcame another.
Only well into injury-time were the visitors breached - Hibs winning the game 1-0 but losing 2-1 on aggregate - when Jason Cummings produced a neat chip over Rangers’ keeper Cammy Bell.
Bell did not deserve to be beaten; there was no better Rangers player on the pitch.
“From Cammy to Kenny [Miller], everyone gave everything they had,” McCall said.
Asked about tired legs, he said: “Mine are all right.
“But the lads have just heard two words they have not heard in months – ‘day off’. They’re too tired to celebrate. And we’ve done nothing yet.”
That was more than managerial cliché. McCall admitted that had Hibs scored their goal earlier the likelihood is that they would have scored more and triumphed. McCall sounds realistic about this Rangers.
Before kick-off a lone piper played during a minute’s silence to remember the 216 soldiers who died in the Quintinshill rail disaster 100 years ago. It was an atmospheric salute.
However another aspect of Scottish football was visible in the swathes of empty green seats in the away end. Rangers had imposed a limit on Hibs fans attending the first leg at Ibrox on Wednesday and this was retribution.
Rangers’ 1500 fans were squeezed into a corner. It did not put off the Hibs players who went with gusto in that direction.
It was reminiscent of the surge two days after last Christmas when Hibs, driven by Allan, scored after eight minutes and were 2-0 ahead in twelve. That was Kenny McDowall’s first match in charge after Ally McCoist had left the club.
The Easter Road team went on to win 4-0 that day and the huge green frustration here was that the same might have occurred had one of four very promising chances in the first 14 minutes had been taken.
Allan, who will surely attract bids from both sides of the border this summer, was the creative hub.
But Fraser Fyvie hit Bell with a shot, Cummings failed to contact the ball a yard out from a David Gray cross and then rushed a half-chance when free in the box.
Dominique Malonga also had openings but could not profit and after half an hour, it felt as if Rangers could see the game out. They almost scored once themselves when Haris Vuckic forced Mark Oxley into a sharp save on 39 minutes.
When Malonga flashed a volley wide on 53 minutes and then had a fierce drive tipped by Bell on the hour, Hibs and Rangers were looking at different scenarios. Cummings’ goal came simply too late.
“If we can keep them together, we can go up automatically next season,” said an optimistic Stubbs.
He and Scotland must await to see if Rangers are in the same division before claims like that can be assessed.
Hibernian (4-3-1-2): Oxley; Gray, Hanlon, Fontaine, Stevenson (Dja Djedje 70); Fyvie, McGeouch, Craig (El Alagui 53); Allan; Malonga, Cummings
Rangers (3-5-2): Bell; McGregor, McCulloch, Zaliukas; Foster, Shiels (Black 81) Law, Murdoch, Wallace; Miller (Mohsni 87) Vuckic (Clark 74)
Referee: J. Beaton
Man of match: Scott Allan (Hibs)
Match rating: 7/10Reuse content