Celtic reclaim edge as Gers held
Rangers handed the initiative in the Scottish Premier League title battle back to Celtic after being held to a 1-1 draw at Hibernian on Wednesday.
Derek Riordan fired Hibs into a first-half lead and Rangers had to rely on substitute Nacho Novo to earn them a point, ten minutes from time at Easter Road. The draw leaves Celtic top of the table on goal difference with both clubs having two more games to play.
Celtic had reclaimed top spot with a 2-1 defeat of Dundee United on Tuesday and former Hoops striker Riordan helped his old club out with a superb strike to give Hibs a first-half lead. Rangers looked to have run out of luck when the ball was ruled to have not completely crossed the line from a Novo shot in the second-half.
But the Spaniard popped up with ten minutes left to scramble home an equaliser and keep Rangers behind Celtic on goal difference in the race for the championship. Rangers manager Walter Smith said his players were convinced Novo's 70th-minute strike had crossed the line.
"I can only go by the players in and around the vicinity and they say it was a goal," said Smith. "It was obviously disappointing not to get it at that stage and I felt it could have opened the game up more."
Hibs manager Mixu Paatelainen praised his side's performance. "I thought the spirit and determination not to lose a goal was fantastic," Paatelainen said. "Rangers put a lot of pressure on us and it was very difficult but I thought the boys were excellent."
Smith was forced to make one change to the side that defeated Celtic in the Old Firm derby on Sunday with Andrius Velicka replacing Kenny Miller, who had a recurrence of his hamstring injury. Hibs took the lead through a touch of quality from Riordan.
The Gers defence was static as John Rankin and Steven Fletcher combined to play in Riordan, who took a touch before curling a superb shot into the top right-hand corner past Neil Alexander. Novo and Kyle Lafferty replaced Velicka and Steven Smith at half-time and immediately had an impact in increasing the tempo.
Novo then had two golden chances to get Rangers on level terms. Lafferty found the striker unmarked ten yards out with a cross from the left but he blazed his first-time effort over the bar. Former Hibs player Steven Whittaker then showed great skill down the left-wing to break into the box and set the ball up for Novo who skewed his shot wide of the right-hand post.
Hibs had Belgian keeper Ma-Kalambay to thank for keeping them level when he pulled off a magnificent save from a Steven Davis shot from the edge of the box which looked destined for the top corner. Controversy arrived in the 70th minute when a Novo shot from just yards out appeared to cross the line before Ross Chisholm hooked his clearance away but the referee waved away the Rangers protests.
Novo scrambled home the equaliser with ten minutes remaining. A Bougherra cross from the right was headed down by Christian Dailly to Lafferty whose effort was saved, but Novo slid in to prod the ball past Ma-Kalambay.
"Hibs showed a great deal of pride with their performance and I'm sure they will do so on Sunday as well," the Rangers boss said. "For us we just have to get on and make sure we win the two matches."
But Smith says his side must concentrate on just winning their matches rather than racking up large scores as there may be some surprises still to come. "The goal difference is at two and we've got to get on with it," Smith said. "Our boys have shown a terrific attitude over the last couple of months to get in the position we're in. You can only go and try and win a match, that's all we can do. Everyone else will start to talk about goal difference now.
"As I said before everybody looked at this game and said if we won the Old Firm game we would go on and win the other games but it doesn't work like that. Celtic have to come here and win a match on Sunday and we have to win a match against Aberdeen on Saturday and that's what we will go and attempt to do.
Falkirk moved off bottom place with a 1-0 win over Hamilton with St Mirren replacing them in the relegation zone following a 2-1 defeat by Kilmarnock. Motherwell drew 2-2 with Inverness Caledonian Thistle.