Rangers went into Sunday’s game looking for a positive start to life after Steven Gerrard, who departed the club earlier this month to take up the vacant manager’s position at Aston Villa.
The announcement of Giovanni van Bronckhorst as the club’s new manager last week was greeted enthusiastically by Rangers fans.
The Dutchman is a popular figure with supporters; he made 118 appearances for Rangers between 1998 and 2001: winning two league titles, two Scottish Cups and a League Cup. Away from Rangers, van Bronckhorst’s playing career saw him win major honours with Feyenoord, Arsenal and Barcelona, including the Champions League in 2006. He was also part of a Netherlands side that finished as runners-up in the 2010 World Cup.
It is not only van Bronckhorst’s playing career than has generated excitement around his appointment, but his achievements as a coach have given cause for optimism. After being appointed manager of Feyenoord in March 2015, the Rotterdam club won the 2016 KNVB Cup and the 2017 Eredivise, their first league title in 18 years, adding the KNVB Cup again in 2018. This will appeal to the Ibrox faithful who have endured failed managerial experiments in recent seasons.
The club prides itself on being one of the most successful in the world, but they had been starved of major honours for a decade before last season’s famous Premiership title win. Rangers’ last League Cup triumph was back in 2011 and you need to go back to 2009 for their last Scottish Cup victory. In this time, they have only appeared in two major cup finals; defeated in the Scottish Cup in 2016 by Hibernian and losing the League Cup to Celtic in December 2019.
Whilst the context to consider is the well-documented ruin of the club and re-build from the Third Division in 2012, it is also key to point out that Kilmarnock, Heart of Midlothian, St Mirren, Aberdeen, Ross County, Inverness Caledonian Thistle, Hibernian, and St Johnstone, with few fewer resources, have all won national trophies since Rangers’ last success. Even in the Scottish Challenge Cup, the national competition for clubs in Scotland’s lower leagues, Rangers only won the trophy once in four attempts.
Giovanni van Bronckhorst has an interesting task ahead of him. There have been concerns about the performances this season. The Champions have conceded as many league goals (13) in their opening thirteen games this season as they did in the entirety of the last campaign. The leaky defence has conceded first in four of the last five league matches. A defeat at Dundee United and dropped points at home to Aberdeen, Hearts and Motherwell – bare in mind that they did not drop any points at Ibrox in 2020/21 – have caused concern. It is unlikely there will be much money to spend either; the club recently announced losses of £23.5m.
It is not all doom and gloom for the new manager and his side. After stopping 10-in-a-row last season, Rangers are still four points clear at the top of this Premiership season – without hitting top gear – in a league season that will reward the winners with an automatic place Champions’ League Group Stage and the riches that come with it.
However, the challenge Giovanni van Bronckhorst faces was evident as Rangers were blown away by an inspired Hibernian in an incredible first half at Hampden.
Hibs came out fired up as defender Paul Hanlon received a yellow card for a challenge on Joe Aribo after just twelve seconds. After nine minutes, it was the Edinburgh side that took the lead. Joe Newell’s corner somehow made it to Martin Boyle at the back post to sweep home from one yard. Rangers’ best opportunity came when Aribo played through Alfredo Morelos, but he fired straight at Macey. Hibs then stunned Rangers again, Kevin Nisbet played Martin Boyle in on goal, and he fired his side 2-0 in front, with a fantastic finish into McGregor’s bottom left corner.
Rangers’ play was slow, often predictable, and defensively frail. Hibs, on the other hand, broke up the park with great pace, and were defensively very well-organised, nullifying any threat. With just under ten minutes before half-time, it got even better for Hibs. Another Rangers defensive horror show allowed Martin Boyle to collect the ball and run into the penalty box where he was fouled by Steven Davis. The Australia international picked himself up to fire the penalty straight down the middle to make it 3-0 and complete a famous hattrick.
Two minutes later, Rangers had a lifeline as they punished the first Hibs defensive error. Ryan Porteous’s poor clearance fell to Scott Arfield who finished well into Macey’s corner to make it 3-1.
In the second half, Rangers continued to apply pressure but never looked like breaking Hibs down. Giovanni van Bronckhorst, watching from the stand, will have witnessed a lack of creativity from Rangers’ key men; Ryan Kent offered little, and Alfredo Morelos is unlikely to have had a poorer game in his Rangers’ career. Rangers’ evening was summed up as Connor Goldson passed up a golden chance to set up a grandstand finish, blasting over the bar from six yards with two minutes remaining.
Hibs deservedly go through to play Celtic in the final on the 19th of December at Hampden, whilst Rangers are left to do some soul searching after a torrid display.