ON his first start, Ianis Hagi became an instant Ibrox hero with a late winner against Hibernian tonight in the Scottish Premiership.
Trailing 1-0 to a Paul Hanlon opener, George Edmundson leveled right on half-time before Hagi struck a stunning clincher with five minutes to go to earn Steven Gerrard’s side the crucial three points.
From the side which drew 0-0 here on Saturday against Aberdeen, out went Matt Polster, Niko Katic and Glen Kamara, with their places in the XI taken by fit-again captain James Tavernier, George Edmundson for only his second league start, and Ianis Hagi for a first start.
And Tavernier almost had the perfect introduction, splitting the Hibs defence on the right with a pass to play in Alfredo Moreos, with goalkeeper Ofir Marciano doing well to force the ball behind for a corner.
At the other end, a neat Hibs move ended with Allan McGregor denying Joe Newell at his near post, while Morelos hit the side netting with an effort from the corner of the box as Gers looked to find a route to goal.
On 35 minutes, however, Hibernian took the lead. Scott Allan’s free-kick was headed up in the air by Steven Whittaker, and while Gers claimed he was impeded, goalkeeper McGregor couldn’t get enough on the ball to clear it with a punch, leaving Paul Hanlon to finish into an empty net.
The home side responded with Morelos firing one at goal from 25-yards which Marciano did well to hold, while super hold-up play from Aribo in the area set-up Scott Arfield to flash one wide as he entered the box to the right of goal.
Then, in one minute of added time at the end of the half, Rangers found the equaliser.
James Tavernier’s free-kick from the right really ought to have been met at the front post by George Edmundson, but as he missed it, Stephane Omeonga cleared it back into his path, and the big Englishman made no mistake by sweeping it into the back of the net.
The relief that greeted the goal around Ibrox was palpable, and with that being the last action of the half, there was one almighty roar to greet the team as they headed back down the tunnel.
That noise was to be heard again as the teams came back out the tunnel, and helped Gers to a bright second half start where Ianis Hagi came close to a stunning goal.
Borna Barisic delivered from the left for the Romanian, but with his back to goal, he managed to spin and only just miss the target from 15-yards out.
Marciano then saved at his near post as Aribo improvised to turn another Barisic cross goalwards, while Aribo saw a goalbound effort blocked with Tavernier the provider into the area this time.
Aribo should then have turned home a scramble on the end of a Barisic corner in the six-yard box, but on the turn he shot over the bar.
This felt so much more like it from Rangers, however, with Hibs unable to get out given the pressure they were under from the home side.
Marciano made a super save next from Morelos as Barisic fed him, while Whittaker cleared off the line as Edmundson looked for a second with another header on a corner.
Marciano stopped a decent Hagi free-kick from 25-yards, while Hibs’ first effort of the half came on 71 minutes, with Martin Boyle shooting straight at McGregor from distance.
The game began to be punctuated with niggly fouls, but with five minutes of the game remaining, Ibrox went ballistic as Ianis Hagi netted a stunning winner.
A Tavernier corner was cleared at the back post by Whittaker, but was sent back goalwards by Scott Arfield’s header, the Canada captain being stationed around 30-yards from goal.
Connor Goldson was on the edge of the box and he managed to flick it on for Hagi who was stationed in the area to the right of goal, and he hit a first-time half volley into the far corner to spark wild scenes all around Ibrox
Alfredo Morelos came close to a clinching third in injury time with a similar volley to Hagi, but Marciano made a stunning save to turn the ball onto the post before it ran away for a corner.
It’s a break from league action now for Gers as they head to Hamilton in the Scottish Cup on Saturday.
RANGERS: McGregor; Tavernier, Goldson, Edmundson, Barisic; Davis, Arfield, Aribo (Stewart, 70); Hagi (Kamara, 88), Kent (Jones, 81), Morelos.
SUBS NOT USED: Foderingham, Katic, Barker, Polster.
HIBERNIAN: Marciano, Whittaker, Hanlon, McGinn, Doidge, Boyle, Newell, Stevenson, Jackson(McGregor, 76), Allan (Horgan, 83), Omeonga.
SUBS NOT USED: Bogdan, McNulty, James, Hallberg, Murray.
REFEREE: Bobby Madden.
ATTENDANCE: 49 427