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Rangers 4 Hibernian 0: Visitors' defensive frailties evident as McCoist's men close league points gap on Celtic

THE vast accumulated wisdom in Scottish football – it measures just over a thimbleful, since one asks – maintains that Rangers cannot win the league and Hibernian cannot be relegated.

The events of a chilly Ibrox Saturday gently challenge the former assertion and plough in to the second with studs up. An initially hesitant but increasingly confident Rangers moved to within one point of Celtic in the hunt for the Clydesdale Bank Premier League title as Hibs displayed the gamut of defensive inadequacies that leave the Edinburgh club just one point clear of the relegation spot. The only cry of gratitude a demented Hibee could make at the weekend was: ''Thank God for Dunfermline''.

Rangers have a few more reasons to be cheerful in the face of the almost certain departure of Nikica Jelavic, the almost certain realisation they will not be able to sign a replacement and the almost certain hope that one day, some day, the income tax case will be resolved.

There were specific causes for thankfulness for Rangers sympathisers on Saturday. Ivan Sproule made inroads on both wings and dangerous crosses were missed by Eoin Doyle in the first half and David Wotherspoon in the second. Both opportunities came at moments when Rangers were vulnerable and their fragility could have been exploited.

Other factors tilting the game towards the champions included the generosity of the Hibs defence and the excellent displays from Maurice Edu, Steven Davis and Sone Aluko. Elsewhere, the ineffective Gregg Wylde needs a break from first-team duties to regain his confidence, while David Healy's goal cannot disguise the lack of pace that means he is regularly caught offside when trying to gain an advantage in a prospective race with a defender.

Incidentally, the attempts by Hibs to play offside have been videoed and entered for the Golden Rose of Montreux comedy prize. Hibs played a high line but it was one that resembled not a straight, purposeful stance but more the zig-zag outline of a cardiograph machine showing a massive heart attack. Presumably being suffered by Pat Fenlon on the sidelines.

Aluko, enterprising and bright throughout, exploited this lack of organisation to put Davis through and the Northern Irishman finished strongly. Hibs then gave a masterclass in the physical comedy of Buster Keaton to gift Rangers with the second.

A languid long ball was carelessly headed back towards Mark Brown by Sean O'Hanlon, but it fell short and the goalkeeper headed the ball off James McPake, the loan signing who made a debut so grisly his later sending-off by referee Charlie Richmond was almost an act of compassion. Healy thus was left to pass the ball into an empty net.

Aluko then scored beautifully from the free kick that earned McPake his second yellow and Davis ended the scoring, deftly controlling a diagonal pass from Carlos Bocanegra to finish with the style of someone who has enjoyed an encouraging day.

It is yet to be seen how much, beyond three points, Rangers can glean from this performance. Davis is better if still not back to his best, Edu is competently functional and Aluko has the ability to cause alarm in opposing defences.

However, there was a glaring hole up front where Jelavic, absent through sickness, should be. Mervan Çelik, the 21-year-old Swede, came on for a gallop and showed he lacks little confidence on or off the field.

"I hope this puts the pressure on Celtic. I believe we have the squad capable of challenging them. We are a good team and there are many games left so I think we can catch them,'' said Celik. "I will help the team win games and bring some goals to the side.''

He may, but this remains unproven. He scored 18 goals in 68 appearances over three years for GAIS. This is commendable for a wide man but does not represent the pedigree of a player whose goals can fire Rangers to a fourth consecutive title.

While Rangers undoubtedly need a striker, particularly if Jelavic goes, Hibs need a defence. Their confusion at the weekend was such that one of their experienced defenders was sent off and another in O'Hanlon was hooked, presumably in the manner of a boxing trainer sparing his charge further punishment.

''We are all tough on one other,'' said George Francomb, one of those Fenlon has brought to Hibs on loan. ''We expect high standards of one another but we are letting in too many soft goals. We have to cut it out; be more dogged and determined.''

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