On the 29th of July 2012, Rangers lined up against Brechin City in the Challenge Cup. It had been the most tumultuous summer in the history of the club. In what was almost a foreshadowing of what was to come, the match itself was poor. Rangers got the win in extra time through Lee McCulloch, and what was being deemed the Journey began.
Since then, we’ve had 4 managers, 4 caretaker managers, Kevin Kyle, Ian Black and Emilson Cribari. We’ve had Fransisco Sandaza taking calls from fake agents trying to get out of the club. Directors basically stripping the club of all assets, and hiding in a marquee on the pitch during an AGM. From the highs of the new board to the lows of recent defeats to Celtic, what was deemed a journey quickly became better known as The Banter Years.
If those are coming to an end, Sunday was a fitting way for them to finish. The 5-5 draw between Rangers and Hibs almost summed up the entire season in one 90 minutes. The defending was woeful, there was some excellent attacking play, and they couldn’t do enough to get over the line. The players deserve credit for turning around what was a horrific start to the match. In some ways, though, the fact it meant very little almost exemplifies what we’ve seen this season.
Rangers started the match with 3 enforced changes. Cummings started up front in the place of the suspended Morelos. Goss took the place of Dorrans, who was injured. The most notable inclusion was that of Jordan Rossiter, his first match since July for the first team. He played in front of the back 4 in the place of Ross McCrorie. Hibs went with a different team to what was expected. On paper, it looked like a 4-4-2, but they stuck with their 3-5-2 shape.
This was a match where Hibs needed a 6 goal win to overtake Rangers in the league. They started with an intent to do just that. Any loose balls or challenges would go the way of the home side. Kamberi was unlucky with a chance when he ran at the defence, his shot deflected wide by the heel of Bates. He didn’t have to wait long for a goal, though, as Hibs won a penalty on the 9th minute. A cross ball from the right was easy to deal with, but Bates caught MacLaren with his arm and the referee gave the penalty.
At the time, the decision looked a little soft. It was a foul, however, on reflection. Bates was simply looking to “feel the striker” as they say, but got caught out. Kamberi stepped up, and confidently placed the penalty into the top corner.
From there, Rangers looked like they were panicking. There was only 8 minutes until Hibs got their second goal through Scott Allan. In those minutes, Goss picked up a booking, and Rangers barely got out of their own half.
For the goal, Hibs got a cross in from the left, and only Andy Halliday was in the box to defend it. Slivka rose highest to knock it down, and Allan beat Goss on the run to bundle the ball over the line. Three minutes later, it was 3-0. Again, a cross from the left caused the problems, as MacLaren got in front of Martin to head it into the bottom corner.
What had seemed like a ludicrous notion was suddenly becoming a real fear. Rangers could very well lose this match by 6 goals. Thankfully, the team suddenly found some desire and confidence to turn things around.
From a Hibs corner, Whittaker had a chance to score, but his header was saved. Tavernier broke from defence with the ball, and Rangers had a 4v3 situation. Holt was played in on the overlap, and cut it back to Tavernier who finished well.
The goal flattened the crowd, and gave Rangers something to build upon. Two minutes later, it was 3-2. Murphy was fed the ball around 25 yards out, and played a great pass to Rossiter. His touch took him beyond the defenders, and he scored into the far corner for his first Rangers goal. It was a well deserved moment for the young midfielder after so many injuries and frustrations in the past couple of years.
Rangers looked like the better team at this stage. The game did get a bit bad-tempered though. Rossiter was booked for a challenge on Kamberi, showing some aggression that had been mostly lacking from the team. By way of retribution, Scott Allan hit Rossiter with a very poor challenge, which should have seen red. The referee only gave a yellow card, and Rossiter was able to shake off the hit.
Rangers had substituted Sean Goss for Bruno Alves and changed the shape of the team. That allowed Murphy to play more centrally, where he had already hurt the Edinburgh side. The third Rangers goal came from Murphy running at Ambrose and winning a free kick. From around 25 yards out, Alves stepped up to curl the ball over the wall and past Marciano. From 3-0 down, Rangers had pulled the match level.
There was even time in the first half for Rangers to miss a great chance to go ahead. Ambrose was short with a header back to his goalkeeper, and Cummings latched on to it. It looked like he could lift the ball over the keeper, but he decided to take it around him, and couldn’t get purchase on the shot from a tight angle.
With the way the first half had went, you could have forgiven both sides had they tightened up and slowed the game down. That proved not to be the case, as the game raged on at a high tempo. The fact that Aberdeen went 1-0 up against Celtic meant that even a win wouldn’t get Rangers into second. Such was the nature of the match, though, the players wouldn’t have been concerned. They were determined to turn this game around.
Hibs won a couple of corners around the 53rd minute, but Rangers dealt with them well. From a break, the Ibrox side took the lead. A ball into the channel for Cummings saw the striker get away from Ambrose. He found Murphy on the edge of the box, who then fed Holt in plenty of space. His strike took a deflection off of Ambrose and beat Marciano to make it 4-3.
Marciano then kept Hibs in the game with a couple of good saves. One was from Murphy, and the second from Tavernier. The latter almost fell to Windass for a tap-in, who had just replaced Cummings up front. Jordan Rossiter pulled up with cramp, and was also replaced by Hodson on the 68th minute.
Only seconds later, Rangers made it 5-3. The ball was won in midfield by Tavernier, and he played it to Holt. The shot from distance took a deflection off of Windass and beat the keeper. However, in seconds after the restart, Rangers showed defensive frailty again as MacLaren found plenty of space in the box and finished well at the near post.
With the game at 5-4, the chances slowed down somewhat. The referee, though, was somehow able to miss a blatant handball which should have been a penalty to Rangers. Candeias chipped a ball through which Hanlon deliberately handled, but the referee didn’t give the decision.
Both teams were committing fouls as they chased another goal, and that led to Jason Holt picking up a second booking. His decision to pull back McGinn when already on a yellow was a daft one, and left Rangers hanging on with 10 men.
With 5 minutes of injury time called, and a match that already had loads of incident, it felt certain it wasn’t over yet. That proved to be true as MacLaren equalised on the 93rd minute. Barker found it easy to beat Tavernier on the left, the full back looking tired. His cross took a small deflection on the way through, and MacLaren got his hat trick by reading it before anyone else and smashing the ball into the net.
For reasons unknown, Neil Lennon came on to the pitch to celebrate that goal, and was sent to the stands. That sort of crazy decision almost fit with the theme of the match.
You’ll rarely see a more entertaining game of football in your life. Neither side seemed able to defend as numerous chances and attacks were created. A draw was probably a fair result in many respects. Despite that, Rangers and their players deserved credit for the turnaround from 3-0 down, something no one expected at the time. The return and good performance of Jordan Rossiter was a real bonus, but fans were happy to get this game out of the way and look forward to next season.
Alnwick; Tavernier, Martin, Bates, Halliday; Rossiter (Hodson, 68), Goss (Alves, 28), Holt; Candeias, Cummings (Windass, 62), Murphy.
SUBS: Kelly, Herrera, O’Halloran, Docherty.
Marciano, Whittaker, Hanlon, McGinn, Slivka ((McGregor, 70), McGeouch, Stevenson (Swanson, 86), Maclaren , Kamberi, S Allan (Barker, 65), Ambrose.
SUBS: Dabrowski, Gray, Bartley, L Allan.
If you’d like to read just how wrong my predictions for this one were, see the link below!