Winless in November, 15 points behind the league leaders and only two goals better off than fifth-placed Kilmarnock, it seems Alex McLeish’s men need something of a minor miracle if they are to have any chance of replicating those memorable scenes of last May come the end of this campaign.
Celtic’s defeat at home to Dunfermline combined with Hearts’ draw at Motherwell the previous day seemed to have left the door slightly ajar for Rangers but instead it was Hibs who made the most of the opportunity to move just four points off the top of the table and an incredible 11 points ahead of the Ibrox side before the first door of the Advent calendar is even open.
There was no sign of the diligence and organisation that had been the basis of Rangers’ battling draw in Porto as Hibs, playing with three up front a la Chelsea, threatened to score with almost every attack with Ivan Sproule wide left and Derek Riordan on the right providing ample support for target man Garry O’Connor.
Barry Ferguson’s sending off in the closing seconds put the seal on a miserable afternoon for McLeish’s men and he now misses next Saturday’s clash with Falkirk at Ibrox.
McLeish had rewarded his midweek heroes, Chris Burke and Ross McCormack, with places in the starting line-up but in truth the pair were largely peripheral figures as Hibs pushed forward from the first whistle.
Scott Brown was wasteful with their first real chance – thrashing an effort high into the stand housing the Rangers supporters – and O’Connor then headed straight into Ronald Waterreus’ arms but Hibs would soon find their sights as they raced into a two-goal lead.
There was a hint of offside about the first as the lightning-quick Sproule evaded Alan Hutton to connect with Guillaume Beuzelin’s lofted pass but the flag stayed down and, when the Northern Irishman’s cross-shot flashed across the face of the goal, Riordan couldn’t miss from a matter of yards.
Rangers had barely escaped from the confines of their own half in a dismal opening spell and it would get worse for McLeish’s side when they fell two behind just eight minutes later.
Riordan was the creator this time, sending in a tempting centre from wide on the right that O’Connor – unmarked – confidently volleyed beyond Waterreus.
With Ian Murray shamefully booed by the home support every time he touched the ball, it made for a half to forget for Rangers as they trooped up the tunnel at the break having failed to create a single chance on Hibs’ goal.
After surviving another scare when Sproule drilled a low shot inches wide, Rangers dragged themselves somewhat unexpectedly back into contention just after the hour mark.
Murray and Burke combined to tee up Ferguson and his low shot was deflected past Zbigniew Malkowski for Rangers’ first league goal in four matches.
The Polish goalkeeper should have been beaten for a second time just six minutes later as a resurgent Rangers pressed for an equaliser.
Brahim Hemdani’s free kick was won in the air by Marvin Andrews only for Hamed Namouchi to ungainly thump a volley high over the crossbar with the goal at his mercy.
Hibs, while not as dominant as they had been before the interval, still looked the side more likely to score again and Riordan was only inches away from converting with a curling free kick after Namouchi had fouled Kevin Thomson just outside the box.
Waterreus then saved well after Andrews had misplaced a header straight into Sproule’s pass but it mattered little as Hibs clung on to inflict what must be a fatal wound into this ailing Rangers side.
Ferguson’s red card for a second booking in the closing seconds was the final kick in the teeth.
HIBERNIAN (4-3-3): 31 Malkowski; 2 Whittaker, 4 Caldwell, 5 Smith, 11 Glass; 7 Scott Brown, 14 Beuzelin, 8 Thomson (Shiels 90); 10 Riordan (Morrow 88), 9 O’Connor (Fletcher 75), 17 Sproule
Subs not used: Simon Brown, Hogg, McDonald, Rudge
Booked: Brown (62), Beuzelin (67)
RANGERS (4-4-2): 25 Waterreus; 20 Hutton, 14 Kyrgiakos, 5 Andrews, 24 Murray; 17 Burke (Lovenkrands 58), 8 A Rae (Hemdani 24), 6 Ferguson, 31 Namouchi; 21 Jeffers (Thompson 46), 44 McCormack
Subs not used: Klos, Malcolm, Pierre-Fanfan, Smith
Booked: Rae (21), Ferguson (62)
Sent off: Ferguson (90)
Referee: Stuart Dougal