- Hibernian now unbeaten in seven home games
- Three league wins on the spin for Leith side
- Rangers suffer first Easter Road loss since September 2006
- Worst possible start for Rangers caretaker boss Kenny McDowall
- Just four points separate two sides after final game of 2014
HIBERNIAN moved to within four points of Rangers in the Scottish Championship as Kenny McDowall’s first game in charge of the Glasgow club ended in an emphatic defeat.
David Gray rifled an unstoppable effort into the top corner and Jason Cummings converted the simplest of close-range chances as Hibs raced into a two-goal lead inside 12 minutes.
Scott Robertson made it three just after the hour after an excellent slide-rule pass from the impressive Scott Allan.
Liam Fontaine cleared Nicky Law’s effort off the line before captain Liam Craig netted his first league goal since January to round off the rout.
Inspired by former Gers transfer target Allan, it was the first time Hibs had scored four against Rangers since 1964 as Alan Stubbs’ side recorded a fifth win in six games to continue their recent resurgence after a stuttering start to the campaign.
Hibs – who won 3-1 at Ibrox in September – have now lost just once in their last 12 league outings and look to be the main challengers to Hearts’ title tilt ahead of next week’s Edinburgh derby at Tynecastle.
In contrast, it was a chastening afternoon in the capital for Rangers and their caretaker boss McDowall – in the dugout after Ally McCoist was placed on gardening leave having handed in his resignation.
A fourth away defeat in a row for the first time since 1986 – and the first by a four-goal margin for 14 years – hardly bodes confidence with the Gers already playing catch-up in the race to return to the Scottish Premiership.
The Light Blues – who have won just two of their last six league games – could find themselves 15 points behind Robbie Neilson’s Hearts if the leaders can defeat bottom-club Livingston later in the day.
A minute’s silence preceded the action to pay tribute to the victims of the tragic bin lorry crash in Glasgow city centre earlier this week.
Both sides were unchanged from their previous league outings but it was Hibs who made an accomplished start – storming into the lead in the seventh minute.
Gray had netted his first career goal against Rangers two months ago – and he repeated that feat at Easter Road by arrowing a stunning strike past Steve Simonsen from 18 yards.
The right-back may need a groin operation but there was no signs of strain when producing a late Christmas cracker out of the top drawer.
It got better for the hosts soon after as Allan’s cross to the back post was nodded back across the face of goal by Craig for Cummings to apply the finishing touch from one yard out.
A beleaguered Rangers needed a strong reaction – and there were some promising signs down the left hand side through Scotland left-back Lee Wallace.
But Hibs – strutting their stuff with assurance – were well in control as a Cummings effort from 20 yards was unconvincingly beaten away by Simonsen before Robertson sliced the rebound wide of the target.
Often an impassive figure on the sidelines, McDowall made an interesting but unsurprising call to withdraw Ian Black on 34 minutes despite there being no injury.
The former Hearts anchorman – who had earlier been booked for a mistimed lunge on Allan – was roundly booed off by the home fans as he made way for Kyle Hutton with the midfielder appearing for only the second time this season.
Rangers mustered just a solitary attempt at goal during a dismal first period – captain Lee McCulloch heading harmlessly over from Stevie Smith’s back-post corner.
McDowall had made no changes to the starting XI from last weekend’s 2-0 win at Livingston but made a second alteration at half-time as Kris Boyd replaced the ineffective Fraser Aird.
Having reverted to a three-man attack, the Gers sparked into life somewhat and asked some questions of a Hibs defence largely untroubled throughout.
Boyd – who scored the winner for Kilmarnock in May to condemn Hibs to the play-offs – almost scored for the first time in eight games when scuffing an effort wide as Smith’s shot cannoned off Fontaine.
But Hibernian kept them at arm’s length and added to their turmoil when Allan’s perfectly weighted pass – that Richard Foster failed to cut out – was stroked home by Robertson for the ex-Dundee United man’s second goal this term.
The dishevelled visitors almost got on the scoresheet when Law – with two goals against Hibs already this season – fired towards goal on the turn from Boyd’s knockdown but Fontaine was well positioned to clear.
Stubbs’ dominant team were hungry for more as Lewis Stevenson’s cutback was dragged inches wide by Danny Handling from 15 yards.
They were rewarded again with Craig marking his 28th birthday in the best possible way – the skipper guiding a well-controlled volley into the bottom corner from Allan’s delicious pick-out.
Rangers’ travelling masses flocked out of the away end in their drobes as Hibs remained in total command in the closing stages.
The hosts could not inflict more damage on the team immediately above them in the table but will fancy their chances of catching the Gers, who continue to experience utter disarray on and off the field.
The visitors were outclassed in every department as the extent of the task for McCoist’s former assistant McDowall in completing the final stage of Gers’ journey back to the top-flight of Scottish football was laid bare in Leith.
Substitutes: Booth (Gray 74′), Kennedy (Handling 87′), Stanton (Cummings 87′)
Subs not used: Perntreou (GK), Sinclair, Harris, Heffernan
Goals: Gray (8), Cummings (12), Robertson (63), Craig (70)
Substitutes: Hutton (Black 34′), Boyd (Aird 45′), Shiels (Miller 83′)
Subs not used: Robinson (GK), Mohsni, Faure, Daly
Booked: Black (21), McCulloch (85)
Referee: Bobby Madden (Scotland) – 9/10