YET another explosive chapter in ‘Neil Lennon’s adventures at Ibrox’ was written yesterday and it just so happened to have a happy ending for the Hibernian manager.
His team won 3-2, the same result of the Scottish Cup final from 15 months ago, and yet again there was plenty of controversy, more talking points than anyone could handle and some good football, mostly played by the visitors, amid all the chaos.
The match turned when Rangers midfielder Ryan Jack was sent off at 1-1, and he had good reason to feel aggrieved, on a day when referee John Beaton had a busy and not particularly clever afternoon.
Lennon was, of course, involved. He made what can only be called an arm gesture towards the Rangers supporters who had verbally abused the former Celtic manager. To be honest, it was more pantomime than anything else.
More players could have been sent off and Rangers will feel hard done by. However, what must be said is Pedro Caixinha’s team utterly failed to deal with the loss of Jack and their defending was reminiscent of that under Mark Warburton.
That, more than a home defeat, should be the most-worrying aspect for the Rangers manager.
As for Hibs, the hype about their return has so far been justified. They look every inch a top-four team never mind the top half.
This highly anticipated game promised much and delivered after only two minutes. Rangers won a free-kick outside and to the right of the Hibs area, Daniel Candeias put the ball into the six-yard box where Alfredo Morelos had the simple task of heading in from close range.
The pace of the action rarely slowed after this start.
An awful mistake by Hibs goalkeeper Ofir Marciano allowed Kenny Miller a clear but difficult shot at an empty goal which was just wide. The only thing missing in these frantic early stages was a rammy and so it was nice of Anthony Stokes and James Tavernier to have a tussle on the touchline which acted like a magnet to the other players.
With the home crowd baying for a red card to be shown to the Hibs man, referee John Beaton gave both a talking to and a yellow.
Hibs did get themselves into things after a while. Their main problem was their final ball but they were also struggling at the back. On 20 minutes, a Josh Windass cross found Miller in a throng of green and white, his shot came off the bottom of the post and somehow stayed out.
Rangers were to regret that straight away. Hibs broke quickly through Simon Murray who cut inside Fabio Cardoso, the defender never looked like making a tackle, and the striker then guided his shot into the net. It was his 10th for the season already.
This is when Lennon had his ‘get-it-up-ye’ moment with the Ibrox main stand.
Stokes came close to a goal before the half hour. The Irishman is great at finding space outside the box when there seems none and his low shot rippled the side-netting.
Candeias was booked for catching Dylan McGeoch late and so upset was the Rangers man that he kept complaining and that earned him a second talking to by the busy Beaton whose day was to become testing on 36 minutes.
In midfield, Vykintas Slivka was late on Dorrans who had something to say about it. Voices were raises, as were hands, as tempers boiled over. Ryan Jack got involved and did raise his hands while making his point, although he was hardly the only player who misbehaved in the exact same manner. Stokes certainly was fortunate to escape.
Jack, though, was shown a red card and McGeoch was booked. The locals were far from happy and the atmosphere turned ugly. Hibs then took the lead in bizarre fashion after 39 minutes.
Rangers’ defending was awful but Murray deserved credit for getting the ball into the box and finding Slivka with a cut-back. His shot was blocked, the ball bounced in the air, Tavernier tried to clear his lines and only succeeding in putting the ball past Wes Foderingham.
The Rangers goalkeeper was almost responsible for a third when a poor clearance allowed Hibs to attack once again, John McGinn took on a low shot and, in fairness, Foderingham pulled off a great save.
Murray was almost on target again five minutes after the break with a shot from distance which faded wide as Rangers appeared a team without much of a clue about how to get themselves out of their hole.
Striker Eduardo Herrera had replaced Candeias at half-time, Miller pushed back into midfield, but Rangers offered little bar one or two half-chances.
They weren’t getting much from Beaton who decided that a bad foul on Herrera by the already-booked McGeouch merited a ticking off and nothing else. Yet again, the home fans were incensed and on 65 minutes they had all the life taken out of them.
It was a good goal by Hibs in that Lewis Stevenson was smart to spot Slivka in space 20 yards out and the Lithuanian executed a half volley which ended up in the corner of the Rangers net. But the defending and goalkeeping were hugely suspect. Again.
The Rangers supporters’ day would have been completed had Efe Ambrose scored with a header with 15 minutes to go. In truth, it was a weak effort which Foderingham fumbled over when an old-fashioned catch would have done.
Hibs had all the possession and were comfortable – too comfortable – and Rangers got a goal back on 81 minutes when Danny Wilson put a cross towards the back post and Tavernier jumped high and placed his header beyond Marciano.
There were to get one more chance. Bruno Alves looked supremely confident as he stood over the ball at a free-kick outside the box but the ball was going high the moment it left his boot.
That was it in terms of the match but the dust won’t settle on this one for a while.