Rangers’ comfortable win overshadowed by more trouble from Hibernian fans
Rangers proved they can live without Alfredo Morelos as they swept past hapless Hibernian 3-0 on the latest night of shame at Easter Road.
The Ibrox top goalscorer was banned for the meeting with Jack Ross’ team after his sending off at Motherwell but it made little difference for the Light Blues.
Steven Gerrard had the luxury of replacing his 27-goal hitman with Jermain Defoe and the veteran Englishman rounded off a dominant win early in the second period.
Ryan Kent and Joe Aribo terrorised Hibs for most of the first half and both got their names on the scoresheet.
But there were disgraceful scenes as visiting defender Borna Barisic narrowly avoided being struck with a glass bottle hurled from the East Stand.
The shocking incident came as the Croatian lay on the ground after being sent spinning by a shocking Ryan Porteous tackle, which earned a red card for the Scotland Under-21 defender and will force him to miss the Edinburgh derby at Hearts on Boxing Day.
Hibs will now face pressure to explain how they plan to curb the behaviour of their fans.
Chief executive Leeann Dempster last year said she would consider closing sections of the ground after an incident in which Rangers skipper James Tavernier was confronted by a pitch invader just weeks after Celtic’s Scott Sinclair was also targeted with a Buckfast bottle.
Porteous’ challenge also sparked a touchline melee which ended with Hibs assistant boss John Potter and Gers coach Tom Culshaw being sent to the stands.
The Light Blues were under pressure to respond after Celtic’s win at Tynecastle on Wednesday opened up a five-point gap at the top but they proved they are up for the title fight with a one-sided win to trim the deficit back to two.
Rangers’ recent record in Leith was anything but impressive with only three wins in their 10 previous visits. Gerrard urged his team earlier this week to be more ruthless – but even he could not have envisioned the merciless nature of their start.
They did get a helping hand as Hibs goalkeeper Ofir Marciano cannoned Lewis Stevenson’s back-pass straight into Aribo’s shins just four minutes in.
The ball looped out to Kent on the edge of the box but the winger made it looked simple as he swept it back into the unguarded net.
Florian Kamberi almost responded immediately as he crashed the ball into the side netting but it was the visitors cheering again after just eight minutes.
Aribo drove inside Stevenson before a reverse pass for the galloping Ryan Jack into the space the Hibs left-back had just vacated. Jack pulled it back for Aribo, who expertly steered his cut back into far corner.
Ross again lined his team up with a midfield diamond but the only thing sparkling was Rangers’ wing-play. The Light Blues had freedom down the flanks while Hibs’ inability to make a pass or tackle was making the centre of the pitch just as easy to negotiate for the visitors.
The home side had to do something to halt Gers’ continual waves of attack.
Stevie Mallan and Kamberi were sacrificed at the break as Vykintas Slivka and Daryl Horgan were introduced in a bid to finally give Hibs some bite.
The move worked initially as Gerrard’s team were momentarily forced onto the back foot, even enjoying a let-off as Horgan whipped a cross just past the far post.
But any fears Rangers had of repeating this month’s Pittodrie collapse were wiped out in the 53rd minute as Defoe sealed the win.
Jason Naismith could only head a James Tavernier cross to Scott Arfield 20 yards out. The ball was immediately headed back in the penalty area with Defoe shifting it past Naismith with one touch before drilling beyond a stationary Marciano with his next.
The celebrating Rangers players had to dodge a series of objects as they celebrated and ugly scenes continued as Porteous got his marching orders on the hour-mark for his lunge on Barisic.
Again missiles – including a glass bottle – rained down from a section in the East Stand towards the prone Croatian left-back.
The challenge sparked a furious reaction from the Rangers bench as they went nose-to-nose with the home coaching staff, with Culshaw and Potter also getting their marching orders.