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Rangers inch ever closer to their Scottish Premiership goal

Rangers 2-0 Hibernian

By Ronnie Esplin

Rangers will feel they have taken another huge step towards the Scottish Premiership after strikes from Nicky Clark and Kenny Miller handed them a 2-0 play-off semi-final first-leg win over Hibernian at Ibrox.

Twenty-four hours on from receiving the news that prospective chairman Dave King had been passed fit and proper by the Scottish Football Association, Gers were desperate to keep the feel-good factor rolling by claiming a commanding lead to take back to Easter Road on Saturday.

Clark's tidy finish a minute before the interval after some Haris Vuckic brilliance was perfectly timed for the hosts as they overcame a nail-biting opening period.

And Miller's second after 66 minutes means the Glasgow giants are now the firm favourites to progress to a final showdown with Motherwell later this month.

Gers boss Stuart McCall said: "I think the scoreline flattered us. You could tell Hibs were the fresher side.

"Our energy levels dropped late on and full credit to our lads who defended ever so well. When questions have been asked in big games since we came, the lads have stood up. There is a real steely determination there.

"It was a tough slog but we got two quality goals. That's two clean sheets against Hibs back-to-back now and we'll need to be ready again on Saturday."

Hibs chief Alan Stubbs, though, struck a defiant note at the finish. He said: "The tie is far from over. We'd like to score first on Saturday and then we'll see. It will be an entertaining game.

"I thought we played some decent stuff but we were a little bit rushed in the final third. But overall, I can't fault the way we played. The reason we are 2-0 down is because we should have done better at defending those situations."

While Hibs were sunning themselves in La Manga in preparation for this game, Rangers had been forced to graft for their semi-final slot in beating Queen of the South over two legs.

And, as expected, both sides set about things at 100mph pace, but goalmouth incidents were scarce. Two harmless efforts from visiting captain Liam Craig were the best either side could manage in the opening quarter-hour.

It took 22 minutes for Rangers to build some kind of sustained pressure, but Miller's shot straight at Mark Oxley was not the climax Rangers hoped for.

With the clock ticking towards half-time, Rangers were looking short of ideas in the final third - but Vuckic's moment of inspiration a minute from the break was just what they needed.

Up against Craig and Lewis Stevenson, there looked nowhere to go until he scooped the ball over the Hibs duo for Richard Foster to run onto and square for Clark, who finished from six yards out.

Oxley had to hold on to a Vuckic strike early in the second half as the Light Blues looked to consolidate their lead before Dominique Malonga wasted a header from Scott Allan's corner.

The next goal was always going to be crucial and the home faithful roared with delight as it went their way. Dean Shiels pulled the trigger from 25 yards but, when his shot span up off Craig's back, Gers did not stop. Stand-in skipper Lee Wallace was up to nod it into the box, where Miller prodded under Oxley.

Hibs piled forward but this time the Rangers defence refused to waver.

Foster then almost killed the tie off completely, but Oxley pushed his shot over in stoppage time.

RANGERS: Bell, Foster, McGregor, Zaliukas, Wallace, Murdoch, Shiels (Black 76), Law Vuckic, Clark (Smith 74), Miller (Boyd 79).

Goals: Clark 44, Miller 63

HIBERNIAN: Oxley, Gray, Hanlon, Fontaine, Stevenson, Robertson (McGeouch 65), Fyvie, Craig, Allan, Malonga, Cummings.

Man of the match: Vuckic

Rating: 7/10

Ref: Calum Murray

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