Required to beat Hibernian and hope that Celtic would somehow drop points to a Motherwell side with nothing to play for, only the most optimistic of Bluenoses genuinely believed the league trophy would eventually end up at Ibrox.

With just three minutes remaining in both games, Rangers looked to have upheld their side of the bargain after carving out a scrappy one-goal lead over Hibs with Celtic possessing a similar lead over at Fir Park.

Then, just when all hope was lost, word filtered through that Australian striker Scott McDonald had levelled for Motherwell in the 88th minute.

As ref Kenny Clark blew to signal the end of the 90 minutes at Easter Road, the Rangers players and supporters waited anxiously to hear if Motherwell could hold on to a hard-earned point.

Instead they went one better, McDonald scoring again in the final minute to hand the Fir Park side an unexpected but very welcome victory to rob Celtic of the title.

After a season of trials and tribulations and just when it looked that all was lost, Rangers somehow have ended the season as champions.

It was a remarkable end to a day of escalating intrigue and relentless drama where there was more than just the destination of the SPL trophy at stake.

Aberdeen’s victory at this ground the previous weekend had presented them with a slim but yet viable chance of overtaking Hibs into third spot and with it a place in next season’s UEFA Cup thus adding extra incentive for Tony Mowbray’s men going into today’s clash.

Easter Road has never been the most hospitable of venues for Rangers and with Hibs intent on securing the point they needed to guarantee European football next term this was never going to be a comfortable afternoon for McLeish’s side.

Garry O’Connor’s thrusting drive after just three minutes – parried by Ronald Waterreus – set the agenda before the Scotland striker, looking for his 15th goal of the season, headed just over from Stephen Glass’ in-swinging free kick.

Hibs’ purposeful start meant Rangers’ attacking forays were largely restricted to ambitious shots from distance that flew high and wide, barely troubling Simon Brown.

The goalkeeper, however, was fortunate to not have beaten after a calamitous error in the tenth minute after he misjudged the flight of Alex Rae’s long ball, allowing it to bounce over his head.

Nacho Novo reacted quickest to the loose ball but, from a tight angle, struck the post with his first-time drive, the rebound plopping tamely into the arms of the grateful Brown.

Poor Novo, without a goal since the CIS Cup Final win over Motherwell on March 20, could only shake his head and wonder what he had done to deserve such ill-fortune. His luck would change later on, however.

That would prove to be the best chance for either side in a first-half replete with boundless energy and no shortage of commitment but lacking in any real finesse in front of goal.

A Thomas Buffel shot – snuffed out by the desperate lunge of Gary Smith – and Shota Arveladze’s thumping volley that whistled past the post were the best Rangers had to offer in the remainder of the opening 45 minutes, with news that Celtic had gone in front at Fir Park only adding to the gloom as the teams trooped up the tunnel.

Buffel had been a peripheral figure in the opening exchanges, shadowed everywhere he went by man-marker Scott Brown, but had two further chances to open the scoring early in the second half.

Only a last-ditch tackle from Steven Whittaker denied the Belgian a clear shot on goal after he had burrowed his way into a good position while moments later he snatched at his attempt after being threaded through by Novo.

Third time would prove the charm for Buffel however when he turned creator as Rangers finally went in front just before the hour mark.

The former Feyenoord playmaker worked a neat 1-2 with Dado Prso before slipping a pass to Novo wide on the penalty box.

The Spaniard’s drive was firmly struck and a deflection from Gary Caldwell helped it on its way past the helpless goalkeeper.

It had been a long time coming but Novo had belatedly netted his 25th goal of the season and celebrated accordingly in front of the vast travelling support.

Remarkably, instead of instigating a Hibs fightback, Rangers goal sent Mowbray’s men into retreat, seemingly unable or unwilling to pour forward in search of an equaliser.

It meant the surreal scenario of Rangers casually passing the ball about for the remaining 20 minutes, hoping and praying for a Motherwell equalising goal 30 miles away at Fir Park.

Then the miracle happened as word trickled through that McDonald had dragged Well back into the match with an overhead kick, sending Rangers into pole position in the race for the title.

With the 90 minutes finished at Easter Road, the Rangers fans waited for the final whistle from Motherwell.

It would get better than that with news that McDonald had scored a second to kill off any thoughts of a late Celtic comeback. Rangers were champions.

HIBERNIAN (4-3-3): 1 Simon Brown; 15 Whittaker, 4 Caldwell, 2 Smith, 6 I Murray; 18 Scott Brown, 14 Beuzelin (A Murray 74), 11 Glass; 34 Sproule (Shiels 65), 9 O’Connor (69), 10 Riordan

Subs not used: A Brown, Hogg, Murphy, Morrow

Booked: Beuzelin (35), I Murray (49), Riordan (60), Scott Brown (76)

RANGERS (4-2-1-3): 25 Waterreus; 2 Ricksen, 16 Kyrgiakos, 5 Andrews, 18 Ball; 6 Ferguson, 8 A Rae; 10 Novo, 4 Buffel, 7 Arveladze; 10 Prso 

Subs not used: McGregor, McCormack, S Smith, Malcolm, Thompson, Burke, Lovenkrands

Booked: Novo (76)

Man of the Match: Marvin Andrews

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