Stokes goal denies win for Rangers

Rangers 1 Hibernian 1

Rangers 1 Hibernian 1

Rangers endured more disappointment as they were held to a draw by Hibernian in the top-of-the-table Clydesdale Bank Premier League clash at Ibrox.

With memories of their Champions League mauling against Unirea Urziceni still fresh, Rangers were desperate for a positive reaction and started well when Kris Boyd claimed an early opener.

But the Scottish champions were denied the three points when Anthony Stokes levelled for the visitors and, although it was not enough to lift Hibs into pole position in the SPL, the away fans returned to Edinburgh far happier with the result than their Rangers counterparts.

Rangers boss Walter Smith made two changes to the side who suffered the hiding by Unirea. Two of those were enforced, with Kevin Thomson and Pedro Mendes both out through injury, while Jerome Rothen dropped to the bench in the wake of the 4-1 thrashing at the hands of the Romanians on Tuesday night.

Boyd, Kyle Lafferty and Steven Smith were drafted in and Sasa Papac was deployed at centre-back in the absence of the injured Madjid Bougherra, with the Scottish champions under pressure to return to winning ways.

Hibs boss John Hughes named the same side that defeated Kilmarnock last week, and the Easter Road side immediately set about putting pressure on their hosts with an early attack which resulted in a Derek Riordan shot flashing across the face of goal and wide of Allan McGregor’s left-hand post.

At the other end, Boyd must have thought he had claimed the opener when he ran onto a short pass from Kenny Miller before shrugging off his marker and rifling inches past the upright.

However, the Rangers striker was celebrating with just eight minutes gone. Steven Whittaker’s cross found Lafferty on the left and he supplied the header to the back post for Boyd to stab home from two yards out.

Hibs went close to restoring parity when a Merouane Zemmama effort cracked off the post. Stokes did have the rebound in the net but the offside flag was already raised.

Rangers could have added to their lead when Lee McCulloch punted an inviting ball into the box and Boyd nodded on for Miller but he managed to direct his header wide of target from close range.

Smith picked up the first booking of the game for a foul on Abdessalam Benjelloun before the Hibs man recovered to call McGregor into action with a stinging shot from the edge of the box.

Instead, it Rangers who were forced to make a change to personnel shortly before the break when McCulloch limped out of the action and was replaced by John Fleck.

Seconds later Boyd was denied what looked certain to be his second goal of the day when Graham Stack raced off his line and did well to block, before McGregor pulled off an equally impressive save to deny Stokes.

Rangers carved out the best of the chances after the restart and David Weir blasted wide from a Fleck corner, before Boyd saw a long-range drive palmed to safety by the Hibs goalkeeper.

But it was Miller who should have had the net bulging. He threw himself in front of a Smith free-kick and looked on in disbelief as his header clipped the crossbar.

The striker then appeared to have his jersey tugged in the box but managed to stay on his feet to pull off a shot only for Stack to stick out a hand and divert wide. There were more screams for a penalty when Steven Davis went to ground under pressure from Sol Bamba but there appeared to be little in the incident.

The champions were threatening again when Fleck sprayed a pass out to Steven Naismith on the right wing and he delivered a lovely ball into the box but Miller arrived at the back post just too late to make contact.

Hibs took full advantage of Rangers’ profligacy in front of goal when Stokes collected a long ball on his chest before sending a left-footed drive over the head of McGregor and into the back of the net with with 64 minutes gone.

Stokes could have found himself in trouble moments later when he clashed with the Rangers goalkeeper but escaped with a yellow card from referee Charlie Richmond.

Hibs almost snatched victory when Stokes skipped past Weir with ease before setting up substitute Colin Nish but he stabbed wide of the post.

There was another penalty claim from Rangers when Nacho Novo went to ground, with Bamba again involved, but the pleas were ignored. Seconds later Boyd also claimed to be tripped by the same defender but Richmond again refused to point to the spot.

Novo had the ball in the back of the net in stoppage-time but the celebrations were premature as the striker had already been flagged offside before the shot had left his boot.

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