James Tavernier marked his 400th Rangers appearance with a clever free kick goal to set his side on course for what proved to be a comfortable 3-1 win over Hibernian at Easter Road.
Captain Tavernier gave the visitors the lead with a set piece which deceived David Marshall at his front post, raising questions over the stopper’s positioning. The returning Ianis Hagi then drove home a low volley just after half time to dampen the hosts hopes of a comeback.
Todd Cantwell put the icing on the cake with five minutes left as he swept home another, before Paul Hanlon grabbed a consolation for Hibs in the dying embers of the match.
These sides met on the anniversary of the pair’s 2016 Scottish Cup Final, where the Edinburgh outfit upset the odds to provide one of the club’s most memorable days in recent history.
Lee Johnson came into the early kick off with European places in his sights, aiming to provide more iconic moments for the Leith faithful, similar to that at Hampden seven years ago.
Michael Beale made no secret of his lack of squad depth prior to kick off, claiming the light blues only had 16 players to see them through the final three games of the campaign. Beale also confirmed that defensive stalwart Connor Goldson would not feature again until pre-season, with an injury picked up in last week’s Old Firm win ruling him out for ten weeks.
The visitors started the brighter with a string of corners in the opening five minutes, keeping the Hibs defence on their toes in the early exchanges.
Despite Hibs forcing their own pressure in the first period, it was Rangers captain James Tavernier who opened the scoring.
The full back marked his 400th competitive appearance for the Ibrox side by scoring a trademark free kick with just over half an hour gone. Whilst it was a clever effort that caught out David Marshall at his front post, questions will be asked over the veteran ‘keeper who looked favourite to make the stop.
Josh Campbell seemed certain to level the score minutes before the break, when he latched on to an inch perfect Kevin Nisbet delivery, only to steer his effort wide of the mark.
Hibs had the best of the early chances after half time when the lively Nisbet saw his close range header drop just wide of Robby McCrorie’s post.
Ten minutes into the second period however and Rangers doubled their advantage through Ianis Hagi. The ball broke to the Romanian forward inside the area, where he rifled a low volley beyond the helpless Marshall.
Todd Cantwell then scored his third goal in three games as he sealed the match with five minutes left. Tavernier’s shot rebounded to the midfielder in the box where he provided a composed finish to secure the points for Beale’s men.
There was still time for yet another goal though as Paul Hanlon made sure that it wasn’t to be five clean sheets in five games for Robby McCrorie, but it remains an uphill task for Hibs to claw back Edinburgh rivals Hearts and Aberdeen.