Sproule has Rangers sprawling iny herey

Rangers 0 Hibernian 3
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The Independent Football

The Northern Irishman, a Rangers fan who may have quietly enjoyed his heroes' Old Firm and Champions' League triumphs here over the previous seven days, single-handedly emptied this ground of almost 50,000 people. Not even the fact that they did their Edinburgh rivals, Hearts, a favour at the top of the table could dilute the joy of Hibernian's fans and players.

The feelgood factor of the past week, with successes against Celtic and Anorthosis Famagusta, meant that Ibrox brimmed with enthusiasm. However, that evaporated after a first half in which Hibernian frustrated their hosts.

Unlike Alex McLeish, Tony Mowbray has limited resources - indeed, his captain, Ian Murray, defected to Rangers during the summer. But the Hibernian manager still left out his top scorer, Derek Riordan, because he felt the striker was not in the right frame of mind after turning down a move to Cardiff City.

Hibernian had to survive early scares when Steven Thompson and Dado Prso were both given a glimpse of goal, only to be denied by keeper Zbigniew Malakowski. Gradually, though, Hibernian's hard-working, five-man midfield began to take control.

Nacho Novocut inside after 20 minutes to shoot just wide. But when Prso squandered another chance 10 minutes before the interval, firing straight at Malakowski from six yards, the notion grew that this might not be the champions' day. That feeling deepened when Thompson failed to turn in Novo's low cross early in the second half.

Then, on the hour, Mowbray decided containment was no longer the gameplan. He introduced Sproule for the bitterly unhappy Garry O'Connor but the substitute, whose principal weapon is his pace, vindicated the manager's decision by breaking the deadlock within four minutes.

David Murphy's fine, angled pass from the touchline arced behind the Rangers defence for Sproule to run on to ahead of Jean Pierre-Fanfan, ignoring the defender's shirt-pull, and execute a sublime lob over the home goalkeeper, Ronald Waterreus.

Rangers were forced to go for an equaliser, but that left them exposed, and Sproule took advantage in the 86th minute. Scott Brown did the spadework with a 70-yard run before threading a pass to Sproule, who thrashed an angled shot past Waterreus.

Sproule put the seal on a remarkable display in stoppage time by racing past Fernando Ricksen and Waterreus, clipp-ing the ball into an empty net and taking a bow in front of 1,000 delirious Hibernian fans.