Rangers 0 Hibernian 3: Sproule shines on a dark day for Rangers

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The Independent Football

You could have had odds of 100-1 for that to happen, yet this was surely worth far more of a gamble than the Euro Lottery. This was Rangers' last realistic chance for silverware - they have no chance of winning the Champions' League - but Alex McLeish's team followed Gordon Strachan's Celtic out of the competition. For the first time since 1998, neither of the Old Firm's names will be on the cup.

Yet again, Ivan Sproule was the hammer of Rangers. The tiny forward did not manage to score all three goals as he did on his last visit to Ibrox, but he set up Garry O'Connor's crucial opener just after half-time and then sealed the contest with an audacious second before Chris Killen killed off Rangers.

For the 6,000 Hibernian fans who celebrated raucously at the end, it was a sweet moment of schadenfreude. All week long, they had simmered with anger after Rangers tried to steal their top scorer, Derek Riordan, by offering a paltry £350,000. Tony Mowbray elected to put Riordan on the bench, fearing the striker might have been distracted by the speculation.

Mowbray brought him on once success had been assured, almost taunting Rangers for their hubris. The Hibernian manager even survived losing his playmaker, Kevin Thomson, who was taken off on a stretcher after five minutes with a knee injury.

Unsurprisingly, Rangers took advantage of that disruption to Mowbray's plan to enjoy good possession and create a plethora of chances in the first half. However, all were spurned.

Kris Boyd clipped a diving header wide of the far post early on, and when the Rangers striker missed another chance soon after, there was a feeling they would rue that profligacy. When Simon Brown, the Hibernian goalkeeper, produced a stunning save to touch Bob Malcolm's dipping shot on to the bar, that theory grew.

Just five minutes into the second half, O'Connor silenced Ibrox. Sproule's pace and trickery took him into the box and he clipped a cross to the back post, where O'Connor buried a header. Rangers went in search of an equaliser and that left them vulnerable to the counterattack, as Sproule proved on 59 minutes. He raced on to O'Connor's knockdown, got in front of Marvin Andrews and guided a composed finish beyond Ronald Waterreus from 12 yards. After that, McLeish's players wanted the ground to open up. Killen rubbed salt in the wound after Waterreus parried his initial shot, the substitute converting the rebound from a tight angle.

Mowbray said: "Is our name on the cup? I thought that last year and we lost in the semis. I'd love it for our wonderful fans."

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