Gers find top gear to hammer Hibs

Steven Whittaker set the ball rolling with a second-half strike,

before Kris Boyd netted his 21st goal of the season from the

penalty spot and Kenny Miller put the gloss on the win as the

Scottish champions strengthened their grip on pole position.

However, the victory over third-placed Hibs could be bittersweet

for Boyd with unconfirmed reports suggesting a yellow card he

picked up late in the first half could rule him out of this month’s

crucial Old Firm derby. Rangers boss Walter Smith boasted a full

squad to choose from “for the first time in a long time” as

DaMarcus Beasley made his first appearance since suffering a thigh

injury back in mid-December. Kevin Thomson was also back in the

starting line-up after the draw with Motherwell on Wednesday night,

while Kirk Broadfoot and Steven Naismith both dropped out of the

squad. Hibs boss John Hughes shuffled his pack after their midweek

draw with Aberdeen, handing Alan Gow his first start and dropping

Derek Riordan and Colin Nish to the bench. Rangers started the game

strongly and had Hibs under pressure right from the outset. Beasley

slipped a pass to Miller on the left flank and he whipped a

dangerous ball into the box where Boyd was loitering with intent

but goalkeeper Graeme Smith was able to gather before the striker

could connect. Miller then collected a Thomson ball and, despite

having support from both Boyd and Beasley, opted to have a go

himself and rifled narrowly over the crossbar from just outside the

area. Hibs had a decent chance of their own when Merouane Zemmama

burst down the right wing before picking out Anthony Stokes at the

back post but he connected awkwardly with the volley and the effort

was off-target. Some last-gasp defending was then required from

Rangers when Zemmama’s corner found Paul Hanlon at the back post

and his header appeared netbound until Sasa Papac hooked off the

line to safety. At the other end, David Weir claimed he was fouled

in the box by Chris Hogg but referee Steve Conroy ignored the

appeals for a penalty from the Ibrox skipper. Beasley was withdrawn

at the interval for Kyle Lafferty and the Northern Irishman wasted

no time in testing Smith with an angled drive within seconds of the

restart. He may not have claimed the opener with that effort but

Lafferty did have a part to play in the breakthrough goal with 50

minutes gone. Whittaker weaved his way into the box before laying

off to the big striker who knocked the ball back into the path of

the utility man to lash past the Hibs goalkeeper into the top

corner. Rangers could have claimed a second when Madjid Bougherra

embarked on one of his trademark runs up the pitch before chipping

into the path of Boyd but Sol Bamba made a timely intervention

before he could pull the trigger. There was a moment of concern for

the home side when Zemmama unleashed a thunderous shot from 20

yards which was blocked, and then spilled, by Allan McGregor but

the Rangers goalkeeper recovered just in time to prevent the ball

from trickling over the line. However, any hopes of a Hibs comeback

were dealt a blow when Miller was felled in the box by Bamba and

the referee pointed to the penalty spot. Boyd stepped up and

drilled low under the body of Smith to double the advantage with 72

minutes on the clock, before making way for Nacho Novo before the

celebrations had even ended. It was Miller who had the final say

when he raced on to a slick Thomson pass before rolling low into

the net in injury time as Rangers flexed their title credentials

with a 3-0 win.