Rangers creep up behind Celtic with Hibs defeat

Hibernian 1 Rangers 2

Hibernian 1 Rangers 2

Goals from Steven Naismith and Daniel Cousin kept the pressure on leaders Celtic ahead of their own match against Gretna later in the day, despite a late strike from Merouane Zemmama.

And, despite squabbling from both camps over who are now favourites for the championship, this particular title race looks set to go to wire.

Hibs had proved to be more than a match for Celtic last week in the wake of John Collins’ departure, with a David Murphy goal earning a share of the spoils at Parkhead.

However, the left-back was one of a handful of players, including Abdessalam Benjelloun and Kevin McCann, who were forced to sit out the visit of the other half of the Old Firm through injury.

Rangers had a couple of injury problems of their own. Despite being free of suspension, Lee McCulloch was sidelined with a calf strain and Charlie Adam missed out with a thigh injury, making way for Brahim Hemdani’s inclusion in the starting line-up.

Jean-Claude Darcheville was back after missing the last two games following a family bereavement but was only fit enough to be named on the bench.

However, one look at the teamsheet suggested Rangers would be just too strong for the Hibs team named by caretaker boss Tommy Craig and that proved to be the case as the Ibrox side dictated proceedings early on.

Having been left in cold storage for most of the season, Chris Burke was on fire against Motherwell on Boxing Day and was rewarded for his efforts with an another starting role today.

Once again, he seem to be involved in most of the Rangers’ attacking play and could have won a penalty within a few minutes after going to ground under pressure from Lewis Stevenson. But the Gers winger appeared to be losing his footing anyway and referee Charlie Richmond was unimpressed by the pleas.

Slack play from Filipe Morais then gifted Barry Ferguson possession on the edge of the box. He turned, took time to pick his spot, and was not too far away with a curling effort which dipped just over the crossbar.

Instead, Naismith claimed the opener with just 11 minutes gone. Burke pounced on Alan Hutton’s throw-in before sweeping the ball into the path of the young striker who gleefully rifled into the roof of the net from a few yards out.

Rangers should have then doubled their advantage when Burke was hauled down by Ross Chisholm a few yards from the far-side corner flag and, if they had, the headlines would have been dominated by another Hibs goalkeeping blunder.

Yves Ma-Kalambay failed to hold Kevin Thomson’s inswinging free-kick and dropped the ball at the feet of Carlos Cuellar on the line, with David Weir also loitering with intent. But the Spanish defender somehow managed to drive against the body of the Hibs goalkeeper before the danger was cleared.

With the interval beckoning, Burke set Ferguson on an impressive run which took him past three Hibs players before the goalkeeper stood tall to prevent the move ending in a goal.

A moment of petulance then earned Burke a yellow card when he was cautioned for throwing the ball away on the stroke of half-time.

Hibs took advantage of the interval to make a double switch with Patrick Noubissie and Morais making way for Guillaume Beuzelin and Alan O’Brien and an encouraging spell from the home side followed.

Steven Whittaker just managed to clear an O’Brien cross from the left intended for the head of Brian Kerr, before Allan McGregor was called into action to block a Dean Shiels effort.

But any hope of salvaging at least a point was dealt a blow when Cousin helped himself to his second goal in as many games with 59 minutes gone. Burke was the provider and a thunderous 22-yard dive from the Gabon striker whizzed past Ma-Kalambay into the top corner of the net.

Hibs responded by throwing Zemmama into the action in place of Clayton Donaldson.

With his job done for the day, Cousin was withdrawn for Darcheville for the last 15 minutes.

But it was the Hibs substitute who made an impact when Zemmama pulled a goal back with just three minutes remaining.

A well-placed shot from 15 yards nestled in the bottom corner and McGregor would have been left wondering whether he could have done better as Rangers held on for the win.

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