A STUNNING Rangers performance tonight secured the Light Blues’ first victory at Easter Road in two years.
First-half strikes from Ryan Kent and Joe Aribo were richly deserved before Jermain Defoe secured the points in the second half.
From the side which defeated Motherwell at Fir Park on Sunday, Steven Gerrard made just one change – and it was an enforced one.
Alfredo Morelos was missing through suspension, with his place taken by Defoe – but any void left by the Colombian’s absence was filled inside four minutes as Gers began the match with an incredible energy
Aribo put Ofir Marciano under pressure as he dallied on a pass-back from Paul Hanlon, with the Nigerian doing superbly to direct the goalkeeper’s attempted clearance into the path of the incoming Kent.
From the edge of the box, and with Marciano stranded, Kent came onto the ball with his left foot and blasted it high into the roof of the net – handing his side a stunning lead after just four minutes.
Hibs hit back with Florian Kamberi shooting into the side-netting from a tight angle, before on eight minutes, Aribo put Gerrard’s men into dreamland.
Winning the ball in midfield, he played a super one-two with Ryan Jack who had made a run to his right, and when he got it back as he entered the area, he too took it first time with his left, and guided the ball stunningly into the top corner.
It was truly outstanding football from the visitors, and they came close to a third with Melker Hallberg deflecting another goalbound Kent effort from the edge of the box wide of the target.
A sublime Kent ball then put Aribo in for what seemed certain to be number three, but Marciano atoned somewhat for his earlier error by racing off his line to deny the in-form attacker with an excellent block with his foot.
Allan McGregor saved well from Martin Boyle to keep the two-goal cushion intact for Gers, while Steven Mallan had a decent strike from distance go just past the goalie’s right-hand post.
Marciano then clutched a James Tavernier header out of the air after he combined superbly with fellow full-back Borna Barisic to connect to the Croatian’s cross.
Aribo had another opportunity to make it three soon after the restart for the second half, racing away following super set-up play from Defoe only to be denied at the last by a fine block from Lewis Stevenson – but that was to be another warning for Hibs that they wouldn’t heed.
On 53 minutes, Gers indeed did make it three thanks to some individual brilliance from Jermain Defoe.
After a Tavernier cross was cleared by the head of Paul Hanlon, Arfield guided the ball back into the area for Defoe, who turned Jason Naismith inside-out before finished superbly beyond Marciano.
That was Defoe’s 14th of the season – and his first since the win over Motherwell at Ibrox on October 27.
There was further drama to come on the hour mark, with Hibs’ Ryan Porteous being shown a straight red card for an extremely late tackle on Barisic, with the Croatian fortunately able to continue after lengthy treatment from the Ibrox medical staff.
The challenge prompted some angry scenes on the touchline, with Rangers coach Tom Culshaw and Hibs’ John Potter banished to the stands by referee Nick Walsh.
Arfield came close to a fourth from the edge of the area, Marciano getting down to collect, while the ‘keeper then did similar with a Kent effort soon after.
Substitute Brandon Barker might have made it four, but again Marciano was out quick to save with his feet, and 3-0 is how it finished.
RANGERS: McGregor; Tavernier, Goldson, Katic, Barisic; Jack (Stewart, 79), Arfield, Kamara; Aribo (Ojo, 75), Defoe, Kent (Barker, 77)
SUBS NOT USED: Foderingham, Edmundson, Halliday, Polster.
HIBERNIAN: Marciano, Hanlon, Doidge, Boyle, Mallan (Slivka, 45), Stevenson, Hallberg, Naismith, Kamberi (Horgan, 45), Allan (McGregor, 65), Porteous.
SUBS NOT USED: Bogdan, Jackson, Shaw, Murray.
REFEREE: Nick Walsh