CELTIC will be in first place in the cinch Premiership table when they cross the River Clyde to play Rangers in Govan next Sunday if they beat bottom-placed Livingston at Almondvale tomorrow.

But a hard-fought Rangers’ win over Hibernian at Ibrox this afternoon piled the pressure on the defending champions before their visit to West Lothian.  

James Tavernier, who just seen his penalty saved by David Marshall, put Philippe Clement’s team ahead in the first-half when he buried a volley. His strike made him the highest-scoring defender in British football history. 

Myziane Maolida equalised for Nick Montgomery’s side shortly before half-time when he prodded beyond Jack Butland from a few yards out.  

However, the match was not level for long. Cyriel Dessers gave Rangers the lead again in the seventh minute of added-on time when he got on the end of a Todd Cantwell cross and headed in off the underside of the crossbar.

Rabbi Matondo replaced Fabio Silva in the second half and wrapped up the three points with five minutes of regulation time remaining when he curled a long-range shot beyond Marshall.

Here are five talking points from a game which saw Rangers, who have a game in hand against Dundee to play, return to top spot and move two points ahead of Celtic.

VAR spot on

It has been refreshing not listening to any mumps and moans about VAR in the past fortnight. But it took less than half an hour for more gripes about the use of the new technology to arise.

Referee David Dickinson failed to spot that Hibs centre half Nectarios Triantis had elbowed his Rangers counterpart John Souttar as the ball came in to his area – but VAR official Andrew Dallas over at Clydesdale House did see the offence.

He urged his colleague to have a look back at the flashpoint on his pitchside monitor and a penalty was duly awarded and a yellow card shown.

Tavernier had his poorly struck spot kick easily saved by Marshall. But Scott Wright, who had just had an attempt cleared off the line by Jordan Obita, was quickly onto the rebound and he lashed into the side netting to break the deadlock. Or so it seemed.

As the players lined up for the restart, it emerged that a possible encroachment was being checked by Dallas and his assistant David Roome. The strike was duly disallowed.

The Hibs fans who were shoehorned into the corner between the Broomloan Stand and Sandy Jardine Stand rejoiced. Rangers supporters, meanwhile, vented their fury. Chants of  “F*** the SFA” soon filled the air.

But they could have no complaints. VAR got both calls spot on. If only the decisions could have been arrived at a little quicker.

If at first you don’t succeed

Tavernier’s prowess from 12 yards out is such that Rangers supporters now start to chant his name on the, er, rare occasions their team are awarded a penalty.

But the right back’s effort today was awful. He staggered his run-up and fired straight at Marshall. No matter. He redoubled his efforts and scored the opener when he bulleted a headed Will Fish clearance in off of the Hibs defender. It took his tally for the 2023/24 campaign to 22.

The Englishman’s attitude clearly rubs off on those around him. Nobody in a light blue jersey stopped breaking forward, tracking back, or probing for an opening this afternoon.

Tavernier slipped and fell flat on his face when he was taking a corner in the second-half and gave the ball, which he only managed to move a few yards, away to Elie Youan. It was a bizarre and probably highly embarrassing moment.

Not that it deterred him. He promptly teed up Dessers with a scoring chance his team mate should have buried. He was a deserved recipient of the Man of the Match champagne. 

Borna’s back

The unspecified injury which Ridvan Yilmaz picked up when he was away with Turkey during the international break saw Borna Barisic return to the Rangers side.

The Croatian left back had not started since the league meeting with Kilmarnock at Rugby Park at the end of last month – and he was hooked at half-time in that game with the visitors trailing 1-0.

Yilmaz has enjoyed his most consistent spell of form since moving to Glasgow in a £3.4m transfer from Besiktas in his homeland in 2022 of late. Barisic, meanwhile, has just not been his old self.

Could the 31-year-old, who is out-of-contract in the summer, get back to his best, help the hosts record a vital victory and increase his chances of being given an extension?

He could have been better positioned at the Hibs goal. But he whipped a couple of decent crosses in to Dessers in the Hibs area. The striker got a header on target after rising to meet one of his deliveries shortly before he scored.  

But Barisic was replaced by Ross McCausland in the second half as Dujon Sterling moved into his berth. Could the utility player be preferred to him against Celtic? He played at left back in the derby game back in September.   

Injury boosts

Rangers’ hopes of beating Celtic for the first time this season have been lifted by the return of a few key men from injury.

Cantwell, who made his comeback from a hamstring injury late on against Benfica before the international break, played for almost an hour and did well in his favoured playmaker role.

Sterling, who had been out for three weeks, returned to action when he replaced Wright in the second half. Ross McCausland also took over from Barisic.

Dessers made way for Abdallah Sima, the free-scoring Senegalese forward who has been out since suffering a thigh issue which required surgery at the African Cup of Nations in January, with around 10 minutes left.

Clement now has an abundance of options.

Hibs’ heart

This result continued Hibs’ dire run against Rangers in the Premiership – the Edinburgh club last defeated their Glasgow rivals in the league way back in 2018.

But Montgomery’s men gave their opponents a game today. They equalised in added-on time at the end of the first half when Youan supplied Myziane Maolida and always looked capable of levelling on the counter in the second. The tension around the ground was palpable until Matondo netted.

Martin Boyle, who had been sidelined since suffering a concussion in the Scottish Cup game against Rangers in Leith earlier this month, coming on for Youan in the second half drew a huge cheer from the away supporters.

If Hibs can continue to play with the same intensity in the coming weeks then they can secure a top six spot.