Kenny Miller has a habit of scoring important goals against former clubs and he was at it again yesterday, netting twice in the glorious sunshine at Easter Road to help catapult Rangers back to the top of the table.
Questions have often been asked about the sporadic nature of Miller's form, but the former Hibs forward, 28, is doing everything in his power to win over critics among the Rangers fans who were protesting against his summer signing months before it happened.
"Stick your Kenny Miller up your a**e," was one loud, sustained chant at the Scottish Cup final in May. By the last day of August, when Miller had just helped put another former club, Celtic, to the sword in a 4-2 Old Firm romp at Parkhead, that had become: "Only one Kenny Miller". And if there are still any dissenters in light blue remaining, they were certainly not audible in Edinburgh yesterday, when the Hibs manager, Mixu Paatelainen, led the chorus of praise.
"People have sometimes said of Kenny Miller that he's not a natural finisher but I can tell you quite clearly that's nonsense," said the Finn. "He's a top-quality striker and he will punish you if you give him just a chance ... If you let him in the six-yard box, he'll punish you. If you let him get past you, he'll punish you. He did that today."
When Miller's own manager, Walter Smith, was asked to comment on his player's knack of scoring against former teams, he joked: "If we draw Derby in anything, I'll certainly know who to pick." But Smith also paid his front man a more significant compliment by saying that Easter Road "has proved a difficult place for us to get a win" and therefore it was important to pick the players "best suited to the opponents we're going to play".
The unspoken message in this was obvious. There are some games where you do not necessarily need to start with your best players. In midweek, for example, in the CIS Cup against Partick Thistle, Smith started with the enigmatic Kris Boyd, well known for doing little but scoring goals. But when the heat is really on – in Old Firm matches, and yesterday, for example – Miller gets the nod.
He went close to opening the scoring in the seventh minute but his shot rolled wide. His work rate and runs always looked likely to be rewarded, though, and when Kirk Broadfoot's low cross came flying in from the right in the 31st minute towards Miller, unmarked in the box, they were. His diving header fizzed into the bottom left-hand corner.
Nine minutes later Rangers and Miller had a second goal. Pedro Mendes passed to Broadfoot, who took one deft touch to lay the ball in Miller's path just inside the area. Miller curled the ball home with sufficient welly to leave the home goalkeeper, Yves Ma-Kalambay, no chance at all of reaching it.
Among those in the crowd sure to have been pleased was the Scotland manager, George Burley, in attendance on a scouting mission ahead of the national side's next World Cup qualifier, on 11 October at Hampden against Norway. Miller must start that game on this form. So too will Broadfoot, who looks in serious danger of becoming Rangers' new Alan Hutton at right-back, despite his "limited ability", which is how Burley described him recently in a wayward attempt at a compliment.
"Are you Celtic in disguise?" chanted the Rangers fans when their side went 2-0 up, a refrain that got another airing in the 73rd minute when Madjid Bougherra swept in for 3-0 following Kevin Thomson's free-kick from the left.
The three points put Rangers clear at the top of the SPL by that margin this morning, ahead of Celtic, who needed a last-minute winner at home on Saturday to defeat Aberdeen 3-2. This loss for Hibs scotched their hopes for now of breaking into the top three, but Paatelainen conceded they had been "poor". They had three good chances but Dean Shiels had a shot saved, Sol Bamba's header was cleared off the line and Ian Murray hit the post.
Goals: Miller (31) 0-1;, Miller (40) 0-2; Bougherra (73) 0-3.
Hibernian (4-3-1-2): Ma-Kalambay; Van Zanten, Hogg, Jones, Stevenson; Bamba, Keenan (Pinau, 59), Murray; Shiels (Yantoro, 74); Riordan (Rankin,87), Fletcher. Substitutes not used: McNeil (gk), Thicot, Hanlon, Chisholm.
Rangers (4-4-2): Alexander; Broadfoot, Bougherra, Weir, Papac; Davis, Mendes, Thomson, Adam (Lafferty, 87); Darcheville (Novo, 71), Miller. Substitutes not used: McGregor, Dailly, Boyd, Niguez, McMillan.
Referee: C Murray (Scotland).
Booked: Hibernian Jones; Rangers Broadfoot, Darcheville.
Man of the match: Miller.