SCOTT Brown was at Easter Road to watch a match which proved Hibs can live without him. Brown was suspended and sat in the stand - Alex McLeish and Gordon Strachan were fortunate enough to be up there too - as Hibs delivered a performance without their most influential player which was vibrant, intoxicating and typically flawed.

It was enough to prove themselves more than a match for Rangers yesterday, and it had the side effect of showing how much Walter Smith's team could do with Brown in their colours.

"We're going to sign Scott Brown," the Rangers supporters sang at one point, responding to a Hibs taunt - "what a waste of money" - aimed at Kevin Thomson.

John Collins filled his side with young blood and changed their formation, two experiments which helped bring life to a match which was far more entertaining than anyone had reason to expect.

Hibs are an enigma. Having failed to score even once in three recent games against Dunfermline they rattled three superb goals against Rangers and there were spells when their play crackled.

They went ahead three times against a resilient Rangers but were pegged back each time.

In March Charlie Adam scored with two free-kicks here against Simon Brown, and yesterday he did it again when Andrew McNeil was in the home goal.

The draw extended Rangers' unbeaten run to 12 league games since Walter Smith took over, but if Hibs' performance was flawed the same accusation could be levelled at both sides.

The relentless tempo owed much to the fact the passing was poor and possession was swapped so often.

Collins has not seen his team win in seven games since lifting the CIS Insurance Cup, although here at least there was plenty of nourishment for him.

Rob Jones had a hamstring strain and joined Brown in the stand while David Murphy was ill, resulting in a shake-up which had Guillaume Beuzelin in central defence.

At first glance, playing Kevin McCann and Ross Chisholm together in central midfield against Rangers looked bold; less so when it became clear that Hibs effectively had five across the middle against a Rangers midfield which once again looked lop-sided.

If Barry Ferguson was supposed to be playing on the right it was a position he drifted away from, leaving an expanse of the field without a Rangers presence. The man who could fill it was sitting a few rows in front of the press box, in a Hibs jacket.

When Brahim Hemdani was caught in possession, Hibs were all over Rangers in an instant. Steven Fletcher robbed him of the ball and exchanged passes with Abdessalam Benjelloun before racing clear to execute a low, angled shot past Allan McGregor.

McCann got their second, a goal so close to half time that those supporters who were heading for the refreshment stalls, but paused in the aisles for one last look at the action, were hugely rewarded.

Hibs took a short corner and Fletcher laid the ball on for McCann to unleash a screaming shot which flew into McGregor's top right hand corner.

At Hibs, even the full-backs are capable of such explosive hits. When Dean Shiels later angled a free-kick into the Rangers box, Ugo Ehiogu's headed clearance took the ball only as far as Steven Whittaker, who caught it beautifully to beat McGregor for what would be the third and last time of the day.

It was enough to have Collins purring. The understanding between raw but assured talents such as McCann, Chisholm and Lewis Stevenson showed that they were friends as well as team-mates, he said.

If he was getting a little ahead of himself to talk about them playing "total football" - tell that to the fans who were at Hampden last Tuesday - there was certainly a freedom and movement to their play that any club would envy.

Rangers manager Smith could not afford to join the chorus line of praise. "We are a bit disappointed with our defending at the goals, but equally Hibs will be disappointed with our goals too," he said.

"The pleasing aspect was that although we kept losing goals we kept coming back.

"At the end of the day it made for a decent encounter. I have no great complaint about the result."

Adam was not in the mood for modesty. His two free-kicks were about "great imagination", he said, although few would be so kind towards McNeil's goalkeeping.

At the first, from out on Rangers' right, McNeil lost the flight of the ball when Adam drove a powerful shot across goal and inside of his far post.

At the second, which proved to be the final goal of the game, his positioning was suspect as Adam curled the ball into a big space at the near post.

Adam's strikes sandwiched Rangers' other goal from Alan Hutton, who raced on to Nacho Novo's pass and continued his fine recent form by lifting an assured shot over McNeil into the net.

Rangers had too many nondescript performances although Thomson, relentlessly jeered by the home support, was not among them and his terrific tackle denied Fletcher a late winner.

Beuzelin received a straight red card in stoppage time for bringing down Kris Boyd just outside the area, too late to spoil a game which was an unexpected joy.