Martin Boyle scored a stunning first-half hat-trick as Hibs booked their place in next month’s Premier Sports Cup final with a fantastic 3-1 win over Rangers at Hampden as Jack Ross recorded his first win over the Ibrox side since taking charge at Easter Road.
Hibs made two changes from their last outing – a defeat by Celtic on October 27 – Chris Cadden and Josh Campbell starting in place of Alex Gogic and Jamie Murphy, who missed out completely.
There was also a return to the bench for Christian Doidge as the Welshman makes his comeback from an Achilles injury suffered back in August but it was the starting place for 21-year-old Campbell really raised eyebrows ahead of kick-off.
Rangers made five changes, Borna Barisic, Scott Arfield, Steven Davis, Glen Kamara and Alfredo Morelos all coming into the side for David McCallum’s side as new manager Gio van Bronckhorst watched from the stands.
With the game barely 30 seconds old Paul Hanlon was in referee Kevin Clancy’s book after a rash lunge on Joe Aribo just outside the penalty box – putting his side under a huge amount of pressure and inviting Rangers to run at him and try force him into another rash challenge.
Rangers would waste the resulting free-kick but there was some concern for Jack Ross when Matt Macey landed heavily after colliding with Hanlon as he came to collect the ball.
The frenetic start continued and Joe Newell followed Hanlon into the book a minute or so later, tugging on a Rangers player’s shirt as they tried to break, leaving Clancy no option but to flash a second yellow card in about as many minutes.
Despite Rangers’ early pressure, it was the Cabbage who opened the scoring through Martin Boyle as the Australiann fired home from close range after some comical defending of a corner by the Gers.
The Easter Road side had barely had a touch before Kevin Nisbet won the corner but the Rangers defence fell to pieces as the ball came into the area gifting Boyle a simple finish at the back post.
Rangers pushed forward in search of an equaliser and they had a fantastic chance to pull level when Aribo’s brilliantly-weighted pass sent Morelos in on goal but the Colombian’s effort was comfortably held by Macey,
Hibs finally started to show what they were capable of and were getting in the Rangers players’ faces and forcing them to play outside their comfort zones – and it made for an engrossing contest.
After surviving the opening five minutes of Rangers’ pressure, the Easter Road side were more than matching their opponents and it was clear the handbrake was off for both sides as the game went from end to end.
The hard work of the Hibs players was paid off soon afterwards, the impressive Boyle making it 2-0 with a fine finish after getting in behind James Tavernier then firing low beyond Allan McGregor to spark jubilant celebrations among the Hibs fans.
Jack Ross’ side had been clinical in front of goal and there couuldn’t really be any complaints from Rangers over the scoreline as Hibs twice exposed some really poor defending and made it count.
Few will have expected Hibs to be 2-0 up after 21 minutes but there could be little argument that Jack Ross had got his tactics and selection absolutely spot on as his side defended their lead with everything they had.
Scott Arfield was Rangers’ biggest threat, having a couple of efforts at goal as the Ibrox side tried to turn the screws and get at least one goal back before the break.
Hibs defender Ryan Porteous was left absolutely furious after Alfredo Morelos appeared to make contact with his arm against the Scotland ace’s face, leaving Jack Ross remonstrating with the fourth official aswell – although there didn’t really look much in it.
With eight minutes until the break Hibs were handed the chance to kill the game off when Steven Davis bundled Boyle over inside the area, the Australian stepping up himself to seal his hat-trick.
As Allan McGregor dived low to his right, Boyle blasted the ball right down the middle of the goal and left Hibs with one foot in the final before the first half of the semi-final was over.
Just two minutes later, Rangers grabbed a massive lifeline, Arfield capitalising on a Ryan Porteous mistake to sweep the ball into the bottom corner and breathe new life into a game that minutes earlier had looked dead and buried.
When the sides headed off at the break, there was little doubt over who had been the better of the two – and the Hibs coaching staff must have been delighted with what they had seen from their players.
Remarkably, there were no changes to either side after the break and the second period got started at a slightly more languid pace then the first – although it didn’t take long for things to pick up.
With Rangers again cranking up the pressure, they felt they should have had a penalty when Paul McGinn had a pull at Connor Goldson’s shirt but Kevin Clancy and his officials saw nothing in it.
There was concern for Hibs soon afterwards when Josh Doig was forced off injured, Lewis Stevenson replacing the teenager, and the sight of Doig walking off under his own power will have been a relief for Jack Ross.
Hibs were continuing to cope with everything Rangers had to offer and started to make their own forays forward again, looking to exploit gaps when the Gers threw bodies forward in numbers.
Rangers kept knocking on the door looking for a second goal to set up a grandstand finale, Tavernier spurning several chances to get the ball into the box and put pressure on the Hibs keeper, with the Rangers-supporting majority inside Hampden getting more and more audibly frustrated.
Time was ticking away for Rangers to try and break down the resolute Hibs defence but they simply looked bereft of ideas – and the Hibs players sensed that they weren’t going to be able to bring themselves back into the game.
So much so, Rangers’ closest chance to score came when Darren McGregor’s passback was miscontrolled by Matt Macey and bounced off the post before the keeper launched it clear.
There was one last positive for Hibs in the closing stages, Christian Doidge coming off the bench to replace Kevin Nisbet and make his return from injury as Hibs saw out the win and booked a return to the national stadium.
Before the game was over though, Hibs fans took their chance to pay their respects to former Rangers boss Steven Gerrard, mockingly chanting the Aston Villa manager’s name as the Gers fans made for the exits.
After a four-game losing streak and a near month-long layoff, Hibs deserve huge credit for the manner of their performance and the way they stuck to their tasks to take a well-deserved place in next month’s final against Celtic.
Hibs: Macey; McGinn, Porteous, Hanlon, Doig, Cadden, Newell, Doyle-Hayes, , Campbell; Nisbet, Boyle.
Subs: Dabrowski, Wright, Doidge, Gogic, Stevenson, Gullan, Allan, McGregor, Scott
Rangers: McGregor; Tavernier, Goldson, Balogun, Barisic; Kamara, Davis, Arfield; Aribo, Morelos, Kent.
Subs: McLaughlin, Patterson, Bassey, Lundstram, Jack, Bacuna, Hagi, Wright, Sakala.
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