Match ends, Rangers 3, Hibernian 2.
Rangers “had a lot of anxiety to get through” before coming from behind twice in Michael Beale’s first game in charge to edge out Hibernian as the Scottish Premiership returned.
Close-range second-half efforts by Alfredo Morelos and Ryan Jack earned the victory that moves the Ibrox side to within six points of leaders Celtic.
But it was a fraught first half for Beale with Hibs twice ahead in the opening 16 minutes, through Ryan Porteous, then Kevin Nisbet, after Fashion Sakala levelled.
“We had a nice chat at half-time and said to take the emotion out the game and play the game for what it was,” the Rangers manager added.
“The first time the ball went near our goal, it went in. Then everyone gets anxious and people take too many touches, so I asked them to go back to the style we practise every day. I said there would be chances in the second half.
“The reality that hit me tonight is there’s a lot of anxiety to get through, but the character of the team is good and we dominated in the second half and we deserved to win the game.”
Hibs, meanwhile, had lost six of their seven games prior to the World Cup break and that wretched run has been extended, despite a spirited showing in Glasgow.
Consequently, the pressure is building on manager Lee Johnston. His stuttering side were desperate for something positive and, for some time, appeared on course for that before wilting in the second half.
The pre-match positivity had been around Rangers – after Beale replaced Giovanni van Bronckhorst – and Ibrox responded with a vociferous noise as proceedings began, but that was quickly dampened during a frenetic opening.
Elie Youan gathered on the edge the box and fired a looping shot that Allan McGregor did well to tip over. The warning that wasn’t heeded. From the resulting corner, Porteous rose unchallenged to power home the opener.
The perfect start for Hibs. The nightmare scenario for Rangers.
But Beale’s side came roaring back. Sakala found space on the left, steadied himself and found the corner superbly across David Marshall.
That settled the crowd. But only for 53 seconds. Nisbet – in his first game since February after injury – burst into space vacated by James Tavernier and smashed a shot high into the net with the outside of his boot.
It was a wonderful run and strike full of venom, one perhaps brimming with the frustration of being sidelined for so long.
Hibs nearly had a third in the opening half hour as Rangers’ depleted back line toiled badly, Josh Campbell being released down the left by Porteous and his drive clipping the side netting.
Rangers did slowly begin to assert themselves and pin their opponents back, but they met a side hard-wired to block, harry, do anything to maintain their lead.
Again, Hibs might have netted when Youan raced in one-on-one against McGregor but the veteran stood up and rescued his beleaguered back line. That ultimately proved vital.
The half-time boos perhaps precipitated a rethink. Rangers simply had to win this. Whatever was said worked.
They took complete grip after a structural reshuffle and refused to let go. From a corner, Malik Tillman got a flick and found Jack a yard out to poke home.
You could feel it coming and then, quickly, along came a second goal. James Tavernier slid a lovely ball inside to Tillman, who superbly side-stepped his man and laid the ball to a gleeful Morelos to slot home.
Rangers managed the match comfortably from there and did what they had to do. Win.
This evolved into the sternest of tests for Rangers against a Hibs side that looked completely rejuvenated in the opening half.
It was an utterly thrilling contest for the most part and Johnson’s men played superbly for 45 minutes.
The pressure was already on for the home side before going into the break 2-1 down. Beale tinkered his formation and whether it was that alone, some half-time man-management, or Hibs dropping a level, he got a response.
That will delight the new manager. The showed resilience and desire but defensive frailties were there for all to see in that first half.
The result was all that mattered and they got that, giving them something to build on with injuries clearing.
Rangers manager Michael Beale: “We need to improve on set plays. We lost Leon King this morning to illness. That wasn’t ideal. He was in the team. Antonio Colak was in the team, too, and he had a problem with his calf.
“The players have had a lot thrown at them in the last couple of weeks. It was not anywhere near what I wanted it to look like. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Hibernian manager Lee Johnson: “It was a very positive first 45 minutes, two great goals, and I thought we were in control off the ball.
“The boys put their bodies on the line and we defended really well. In the second half we started to wane a bit, we had some players who hadn’t had 90 minutes. We couldn’t get up to the ball like we did in the first half.
“But there’s a lot of positives, a lot to build on. We’ve got to put in more minutes of the performance. We can, we will. It’s huge for us to have Nisbet and [Aiden] McGeady on the pitch.”
After a weekend off for both sides, Rangers travel to face Aberdeen on Tuesday (19:45 GMT) and Hibs next host Livingston on Christmas Eve (14:00).
Match ends, Rangers 3, Hibernian 2.