Hibernian v Rangers, SPL, December 27, 2009
The Scottish Premier League threatens to be more than a two-horse race this season, with Hibs having negotiated a superb first half to the season that leaves the Edinbrough outfit one point behind Celtic in third heading into the Christams period. What John Hughes’ side need now is a morale boosting win over league leaders Rangers that would massage their belief that, just maybe, a team outside the Glasgow giants can finally break their dominance.
Rangers will be a tough nut to crack, as Walter Smith’s side have moved up a gear in the past fortnight to cement a position at the top of the table. The Gers are rattling in goals, and inspired performances against Dundee United and Motherwell have seen the reigning champions open up a four point gap at the top of the table.
Much of the credit for Hibs’ lofty position at the end of 2009 has to be attributed to the great work of strikers Derek Riordan and Anthony Stokes. (Rangers are 13/8 to keep a clean sheet.)
At 26-years-old, Riordan appears to have finally got control of some of the demons that held him back earlier in his career and, with pace to burn, the forward is blossoming having scored seven times this season. Stokes also looks a completely differently player to the one that struggling at the Stadium of Light, with the centre-forward topping his team’s goalscoring charts with nine goals. Hibs also have strikers in reserve, Moroccan Abdessalam Benjelloun and Scot Colin Nish, as they appear capable of causing the established order serious problems. (Hibs are 16/1 to win both halves & 5/1 to score in both halves.)
Hibs will come into the game though with some selection problems.
Midfielder Kevin McBride will likely return to the bench after a frustrating four week period on the sidelines with an ankle injury. Goalkeeper Graham Stack will have to train with no reaction to the back problem that has dogged him for almost as long to be considered for a recall, while defenders Kevin McCann and Sol Bamba will both be absent.
Responsibility for hold the spine of the team together will fall on uncertain Belgian goalie Yves Makabu Ma-Kalambay, stalwart centre-half and captain Chris Hogg, and arguably Hib’s player of the season so-far, Liam Millar. Elsewhere, the hugely-promising David Wotherspoon will continue to patrol the Hibs’ right hand side where the teenager has excelled this campaign.
Rangers though remain the big dog, and the visitors will be searching for a victory on Sunday to help extinguish Hibs’ shaky title aspirations. And with DaMarcus Beasley in the form of his career at the moment at Ibrox, the American scoring a brace and adding an assist in each of his past two performances, the Gers will be hugely confident of claiming another three points.
Beasley impressive form from midfielder in recent weeks has added to Rangers overall attacking potency, as Smith’s forwards Kenny Miller and Kris Boyd have been in scintillating striking form having notched up 23 goals in tandem already this season. (Rangers are 15/8 to score in both halves.)
The encounter may also mark the return of Maurice Edu to the Rangers first team following a six month absence due to a knee injury which required surgery. Edu’s return is well-received, particularly as Kevin Thomson and Pedro Mendes are unlikely to participate carry respective knocks.
Hibs passed a significant test at Ibrox earlier in the season where the visitors came from a goal down to pick up a point in a 1-all draw (7/1). John Hughes’ side alluded to the fact that they could mix it with the big boys that day, and if they could chalk up the three points this weekend then Scottish football will indeed be a little bit more intriguing.
101predicts: Hibernian 3 – Rangers 2 (49/1)
Full match odds here.