Rangers survived another tough test of their title credentials as Ianis Hagi’s strike earned the Scottish Premiership leaders a 1-0 victory over Hibernian at Ibrox.
Steven Gerrard’s team had not dropped points since they last faced Jack Ross’ team at Easter Road back in September but they were made to fight to the end to claim their 13th straight win against determined visitors.
Rangers were well on top in the first half and capitalised through a rejuvenated Hagi’s second goal in two games. Yet Hibs refused to admit defeat and the hosts had to dig in during the final stages to extend their impressive winning run.
Leon Balogun’s return in place of Filip Helander at centre-back was the only change to the team that won in Perth on Wednesday, with Alfredo Morelos again left kicking his heels on the bench. The on-loan QPR goalkeeper Dillon Barnes came in for his first Premiership start for Hibs, who were forced to name the goalkeeping coach Craig Samson among the substitutes two years on from his last professional appearance.
If there has been one vulnerability in the Rangers defence this season it has been their ability to cope with low balls slung to the back post and that was how Josh Doig found Martin Boyle inside the first minute, but the winger could only fire into the side netting.
Rangers soon settled. Paul McGinn had to clear from underneath his crossbar when Balogun was left in five yards of space to collect Joe Aribo’s cut-back before Connor Goldson got his head to a James Tavernier corner, powering straight at Barnes.
Rangers continued to threaten, with Hagi firing off a shot that squirmed wide, but there was no one keeping tabs on the Romanian a moment later as Rangers took a 32nd-minute lead. Glen Kamara fed Kemar Roofe in the box and the former Leeds and Anderlecht striker’s cross snuck through Porteous’ legs to find Hagi rushing past a sluggish Paul Hanlon to hook home.
Hibs had a chance to hit back immediately when Boyle burst through but Goldson did well to match the forward for pace, forcing him wide and into a shot that did not Allan McGregor.
Rangers were not quite so slick after the break, and survived a pretty strong penalty claim just after the hour mark after Hagi’s high boot brushed Joe Newell’s face when he tried to clear a bouncing ball in the box.
That seemed to jolt the hosts into some urgency. Roofe fed in Kent but McGinn produced a vital last-ditch tackle, before Barnes made another solid stop to deny Balogun when Tavernier’s corner broke to the Nigeria defender six yards out. But with Boyle’s pace, Ross’ team remained a threat on the counter and Goldson was also forced to dive in and block as Melker Hallberg’s pass sent the Hibs forward racing clear.
Hagi then lost track of Newell as the visitors came forward again, allowing the former Rotherham man to swing in a cross that Kevin Nisbet really should have converted. Rangers’ hearts were in their mouths again when a Newell corner was allowed to bounce as it whipped into the six-yard box.
Hibs threw all they had at the leaders as the game ticked into the final stages. McGregor had to sprawl down to his left to push away Hallberg’s swerving shot before Borna Barisic got an important toe in to deny Nisbet on the rebound.
Morelos’ introduction with eight minutes left helped alleviate some of the pressure but the Colombian missed the latest chance to break his three-month scoring drought in the league when he fired straight at Barnes in stoppage time.