LEE Johnson, the Hibernian manager, today hit out the refereeing decision that allowed Rangers to open the scoring in their 3-1 cinch Premiership win at Easter Road.

The Englishman was unhappy that Alan Muir awarded the visitors a free-kick after Todd Cantwell had gone to ground just outside the hosts area following a challenge by CJ Egan-Riley.

James Tavernier, who was making his 400th appearance for the Ibrox club, fired into the top corner and Michael Beale’s team went on to triumph comfortably.

However, the Hibs manager was unhappy with Muir’s call and praised right back Egan-Riley for his play.

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“First half, we were well in the game and were countering really well,” he said. “They had more technical quality than us and it gives them the chance to overload the centre of the pitch. But when we won it, we had really good opportunities to go and be dangerous and occasionally we were dangerous.

“We had decent chances. If you put together a set of highlights for Hibs today, you’d see decent chances. But in the context of the game, Rangers had a little bit more control than we’d like.

“That probably stems from the first goal. We didn’t think it was a foul. It’s a very soft one - CJ put himself between Cantwell and the ball when he chopped inside and that was good defending. But the referee wanted to give those all day and was very quick to blow the whistle for that one.”

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Johnson conceded that former Scotland internationalist David Marshall could have done better at the free-kick which Tavernier netted.

"I think Marsh would be disappointed with it,” he said. “It's a great finish right in the top corner, but I think the mistake he makes is the first step. He's stepped to read the cross, and once you've stepped away from the ball and it gets whipped inside you it's very difficult to recover and come back."

Josh Campbell had a chance to level the match just before half-time after being supplied by Kevin Nisbet just a few yards out - but the Hibs midfielder shot wide of the right post.

“If it had gone in, it would have given us something to hold onto,” said Johnson. “Look at St Mirren’s performance against Celtic - it was because they had something to hold onto. You have to be clinical in both boxes. We did okay today, but I want to be up and at them for 96 minutes.”

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Johnson, whose team remain six points behind third-placed Aberdeen and four adrift of Hearts in the league table entering the final two games next week, still believes that European qualification is a possibility.

If Celtic beat Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the Scottish Cup final at Hampden on Saturday week then the fifth-placed Premiership side will go into the Conference League qualifiers next season.

"I think it's obviously on,” said the Hibs manager. “There's the potential that fifth is available as well. Celtic are a top team so you'd expect them to be super competitive in a cup final and all of us in the mix will be hoping that Celtic win that game for that very reason.

"But it's going to be an important time for us over the next four days and that's why we need everybody. It needs to be a club performance as well as individuals and I include the fans in that."

However, Johnson warned that players will move on from Easter Road if they fail to perform to the standards expected of them on a weekly basis.

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"We've got to rest and recover first and foremost because what's for sure is that we have to approach these games with energy,” he said. “We're not blessed with a huge squad.

"There needs to be another evolution of our squad. We're not going to settle. We want to build and hold onto the core, but some players have got to do more or they move on.

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"The quicker they realise that Hibs is a fantastic club to play for, and that it's not just about being a footballer or coming in every day and training, it's actually about performing in these big games week in, week out and that's what we want.

“We want to be at those types of levels as much as we can and if we do manage to get into Europe, or even better, the group stages, it's Saturday-Thursday-Sunday, Saturday-Thursday-Sunday consistently for the first ten weeks of the season.

"You've got to have the gravitas at the level to be able to affect the game more than some of ours do."