RANGERS again showed early signs that they are moving in the right direction under new boss Stuart McCall as they battled to a stunning victory over Hibs at Easter Road.
Lee Wallace got the opening goal of the game as he smashed a terrific finish into the roof of the net in the 43rd minute and it was no more than he deserved as he produced his best performance of the season so far.
Kenny Miller then secured three crucial points when he slotted a cool finish beyond Mark Oxley with 10 minutes remaining of a fascinating match in the capital.
The result, of course, means that Hearts are now champions of Scotland’s second tier and while that will no doubt frustrate McCall and his players their performance today should help to lift their spirits as the Light Blues now look to finish second in the table.
From start to finish they looked hungry and determined to end their frustrating run of draws – which had stretched to five games – against Alan Stubbs’ in-form side and they did that impressively.
After getting their noses in front Hibs tried to respond in the second period but the players in blue managed to frustrate their opponents who had not lost a game since December 6 when they travelled to Falkirk on league business.
McCall made two changes to his side that drew with Alloa on Tuesday night at Ibrox.
With Tom Walsh picking up a hamstring injury in the build-up, Bilel Mohsni returned to action on the left side as a of a three-man defence while Kenny Miller also replaced Kris Boyd in a 3-5-2 formation.
The opening 20 minutes of the match were pretty even with Rangers seeing a lot of the ball. Wallace, in particular, was getting into good positions and making positive runs forward on the left flank.
During this period, however, Hibs had the best opportunity to break the deadlock even if goalscoring chances were few and far between.
With 12 minutes gone a whipped cross was perfect for towering defender Liam Fontaine but, having found space behind Mohsni, he powered a header past the post.
A nasty collision involving Darren McGregor and Nicky Law resulted in the game being temporarily halted as the midfielder received treatment.
The Englishman looked breathless after running into his rock solid team-mate and got back to his feet gingerly as McCall looked on from his technical area.
On 26 minutes another positive run from Wallace resulted in a free-kick with David Gray bringing the defender down 25 yards from goal. Law placed the ball down but his curling shot dipped over the wall and just over Oxley’s crossbar.
The bears at the opposite end of the ground were getting behind their side admirably in the first half and the players were responding by putting in a great shift while also asking questions of Alan Stubbs’ men. All that was missing was a goal.
The level of graft and commitment on display was highlighted in the latter stages of the first half when McGregor had to go off after taking a head knock. As a result he had to change his blood stained top and wear a shirt without a name and number on the back for the remainder of the half.
On 43 minutes Rangers got the goal their play deserved and it was Wallace who got it.
Mohsni’s superb 50-yard pass found Nicky Clark on the left wing and he glanced up before playing played a quick cross into the box which Miller flicked on.
McGregor tried to swing his boot at the ball but it fell kindly for Wallace who fired an accurate drive into the roof of the net, giving Oxley no chance.
Rangers’ lead at the break was certainly deserved with Hibs struggling to get into their stride and in the second period the visitor’s kept the pressure on with swift counter attacks proving an effective weapon.
On 63 minutes a great move which started with Wallace making a powerful challenge resulted in Miller finding Clark in behind Hibs’ backline.
The Rangers fans were waiting for the net to bulge but a Hibs defender did brilliantly to get across and make a last ditch tackle to deny the Gers number 14.
With the game now opening up it was proving to be an intriguing contest and after Ian Black had replaced Dean Shiels in the 75th minute, a deflected shot from Scott Allan squirmed across Bell’s goal and out for a corner.
This highlighted how fragile Rangers’ lead was and from the sidelines McCall and his assistant Kenny Black roared out instructions as the digital clock at the Rangers’ end appeared to slow down.
In 80 minutes Miller finally got the all-important second goal and didn’t he enjoy it. Again Wallace was involved as he charged into the box and when the ball was played to him he appeared to clatter into Hibs defender Paul Hanlon.
Referee Willie Collum was brave to let play continue and this allowed Miller to take the ball into the box and pick his spot beyond Oxley.
The striker jumped over the advertising boards to celebrate with the ecstatic Rangers fan who clearly enjoyed seeing their team get back to winning ways and no wonder.
Whisper it but this could just be the turning point in the season they have been waiting for.
HIBERNIAN (4-4-2): Oxley; Gray (Watson 45), Hanlon, Fontaine, Stevenson; Fyvie, Allan, Robertson (Stanton 78), McGeouch; Malonga, Dja Djedje (Boyle 69)
SUBS NOT USED: Perntreou, Forster, Craig, Handling
BOOKED: Gray, Hanlon, Allan
RANGERS (3-5-2): Bell; Zaliukas, McCulloch, Mohsni; McGregor, Law, Murdoch, Shiels (Black 75), Wallace; Clark, Miller (Vuckic 85)
SUBS NOT USED: Robinson, Hutton, Daly, Templeton, Sinnamon
GOALS: Wallace 43, Miller 80
BOOKED: Murdoch, Miller
REF: Willie Collum