By Duncan Wright
Some arrived by train. Some came on ferries and some by aeroplane. Yet every single Rangers fan left Hampden disappointed on Sunday evening after a humiliating 3-1 defeat to Hibs in the second of the League Cup Semi-Finals. This was supposed to be the start of a new era for this famous institution but instead the hangover from Steven Gerrard leaving lingered for one final afternoon.
The game was lost by Rangers before forty minutes were on the clock after a devastating hat-trick from Hibs striker Martin Boyle, who until today, had never scored for Hibs against Rangers. In a pulsating Hampden atmosphere Rangers had started the game brightly. Straight from kick-off Aribo broke down the right and earned a free kick after a reckless challenge from Hibs Paul Hanlon. Referee Kevin Clancy had no option but to book the Hibs player but Rangers were unable to captalise from Taverniers’s delivery. Two minutes later Joe Newell became the second Hibs player to be booked when he pulled Aribo’s shirt as the Nigerian demonstrated his attacking intent once again.
Despite the positive start, once again this season Rangers went behind with the opposition’s first shot on goal. The inswinging corner was poorly defended by Rangers with McGregor, Tavernier and Kamara all guilty of poor decision making and a lack of concentration as Boyle reacted quickest and punished the defensive lapse. Despite the setback Rangers responded well and Aribo played an incisive pass through the Hibs back line to Morelos. He drove into the box from the right but his shot was straight at Hibs keeper Macey.
After twenty one minutes Rangers were two behind. Hibs had a throw on Rangers left and some quick passing from Newell and Nisbet saw Boyle released into the left centre back channel. His pace took him into the box and he blasted past McGregor. The goal was reminiscent of the late consolation Rangers conceded to Ross County earlier this month and was completely avoidable.
Again Rangers tried to respond with Arfield and Aribo both continuing to be Rangers best performers. First Aribo fired over the bar before Arfield turned inside the box and dragged his shot wide. However after 37 minutes Rangers were, unbelievably, 3-0 down. Boyle received the ball just inside the Rangers box and drew a foul from Steven Davis. The Irishman will be disappointed to have conceded such a cheap penalty which was dispatched down the centre of the goal by Boyle.
Rangers were shell-shocked but somehow managed to get a foothold in the game when Arfield pulled a goal back just four minutes from half time. Tavernier crossed into the Hibs box and a poor clearance from Porteous went straight to Arfield whose first touch allowed him to create space for a right-footed shot into the bottom of the net. It felt at the time that this goal might prove to be a catalyst for a Rangers fight back but it proved to be nothing but a consolation
The second half saw Rangers dominate possession but they created almost nothing. In what was a largely forgettable half of football, Hibs were happy to protect their two goal cushion and ask Rangers to break them down. And despite Rangers long periods of possession they rarely threatened the Hibs goal. When the ball broke to Connor Goldson in the 6yrd box with four minutes to go he ballooned the ball high over the bar to sum up what was a hugely disappointing performance from Rangers.
Prior to the match few had given Hibs a chance in this game. They hadn’t played for a month due to Co-Vid related issues and had lost their last four games. Rangers were four points clear and despite losing manager Steven Gerrad to Aston Villa had appointed new manager Giovanni Van Bronckhurst on Thursday, giving the Rangers players an added incentive to perform in this semi-final. But for those that looked for it there was evidence that Hibs could pull off a shock.
Rangers may be four points clear at the top of the league but they have been far from convincing this season. The team looks a shadow of last season and defensive frailties have been present in almost every game played so far. In Gerrard’s last game before leaving his side conceded two goals to bottom of the league Ross County and today as the Gerrad era came to an end, it finished with a Rangers performance that lacked desire, hunger and pride.
Although Giovanni Van Brockhurst inherits a squad of players inherently better than Steven Gerrard did, there are a number of issues that need to be addressed and addressed quickly. Questions have been asked since early in the season about the hunger in the squad and today did little to quell those who have been questioned over the last few months. More importantly though is the defensive frailty that has been evident for almost the whole season and which Van Bronckhurst must address with some degree of urgency. Consistently allowing the opposition to be one (or two) goals in front makes it extremely difficult for a team to build any kind of platform in the game.
The scale of the job Giovanni Van Bronckhurst has agreed to became abundantly clear at Hampden this afternoon. The hard work for him and his team starts immediately.