The storyline was always set. An inspiring presence was going to turn up at Hampden and see his club’s miserable Hampden record wiped away.
And so it came to pass. For Martin Boyle and Hibernian. What a performance by Boyle in assembling a first-half hat-trick, his first for the Easter Road side. What a result for Jack Ross and his players after enduring three defeats here in the past 14 months.
Rangers had, of course, viewed the plot from a different perspective. This was supposed to be the day they rolled out a perfect welcome to Giovanni van Bronckhorst.
Martin Boyle was the hero as Hibs beat Rangers 3-1 to reach the Premier Sports Cup final
Sitting high in the South Stand of the national stadium, the incoming manager watched with deepening disappointment as events on the pitch unfolded.
Hope of earning a trophy in the first month of his tenure vanished in front of his eyes. Instead, dispelling the hurt of this grim defeat will be a primary task when he formally begins work today.
Those about to come under his command did not exactly make a positive first impression. Rangers defended woefully.
The Hibs striker opened the scoring with just nine minutes played at Hampden Park
Boyle added a second with a brilliantly taken finish as Hibs went 2-0 up inside 21 minutes
And then completed his hat-trick from the spot shortly before halftime as Hibs went 3-0 up
None of that mattered to Hibs. Ross roared in delight at the final whistle, grabbing assistant John Potter in an embrace. Little wonder. His record in reaching Hampden is excellent. Too often, though, the accusation has been of his side leaving all its self-belief somewhere along the M8.
How different it was here. Hibs didn’t look back from Boyle’s ninth minute opener that capitalised on the first instalment of Rangers’ fragility. A superb finish and a perfect penalty quickly followed.
In the space of 29 minutes, Boyle secured a match ball worth putting in a display case and set up a Premier Sports Cup final meeting with Celtic on December 19. He will never forget this day.
It was all the more impressive considering what preceded it. Hibs had suffered four successive losses before a Covid-enforced lay-off. Without a game for three and a half weeks, questions were asked about their readiness. All were answered positively. They didn’t have a failure in their ranks.
Rangers pulled a goal back through Scott Arfield before halftime but that was as good as it got
Rangers fans will inevitably wonder if it might have been different with Van Bronckhorst in the technical area. An interim coaching team, headed up by B team manager David McCallum, was instead left in charge as a work permit for the Dutchman was finalised.
Scott Arfield pulled a goal back before half-time but Hibs remained admirably durable throughout the second period to claim a famous triumph. For Rangers, the wait for a domestic cup will go beyond a decade.
Over three seasons in charge, Steven Gerrard won just once at Hampden. His departure has not changed a sorry tale on these occasions.
Rangers interim manager David McCallum cut a disconsolate figure on the sideline
Much of the the Ibrox outfit’s performance was summed by a first disastrous concession.
No-one attacked the danger when Joe Newell whipped a corner towards the six-yard area. James Tavernier was somehow facing his own goal as he allowed the ball to skid off his chest.
The Ibrox captain’s intervention succeeded only in setting up Boyle, who took one touch before lifting the ball high into the net beyond the despairing Allan McGregor.
Television cameras cut to Van Bronckhorst. A raised eyebrow and little twitch of his head was demonstrative enough. No-one needed to ask what he thought of the non-protection supplied by the backline he is about to inherit.
The defeat to Hibs means Rangers’ wait for a domestic cup will extend beyond a decade
At this point, hope for Rangers could be drawn from recent history. Remarkably, this was the successive match in which they had fallen behind, recovering to win three and draw two of the previous five.
Hibs, though, suddenly had real reason to believe. They were sniffing out more opportunities to inflict pain on Rangers’ uncertain defence. And they didn’t have to wait long.
With 21 minutes gone, a Paul McGinn throw-in on the right led to Kevin Nisbet spinning away from Leon Balogun with ease. The Scotland striker slid a lovely, weighted through-ball into the gaping space now in front of him.
Tavernier tried to come across to cover, but Boyle was onto it in a flash. He angled a brilliant right-foot finish across McGregor and into the far corner of net, sending Hibs fans spilling out of the seated rows in delirium.
Jack Ross has now taken Hibs to two domestic cup finals in consecutive seasons
The Hibees reached the Scottish Cup final last season but lost to St. Johnstone 1-0
Rangers were stunned. The quick feet of Joe Aribo had looked their most likely outlet for recovery.
He had been clattered by Paul Hanlon after just eight seconds, rightly earning the Hibs skipper a yellow card. Aribo was starting to feel victimised when Newell followed Hanlon into referee Kevin Clancy’s booking for a third-minute shirt pull.
The ex-Charlton man wasn’t put off. Turning nimbly in midfield, he slipped a perfect pass in for Alfredo Morelos. The striker had the run on Hanlon but sent his shot straight at Matt Macey.
Getting Morelos back to peak form is another key challenge awaiting Van Bronckhorst.
Rangers’ incoming manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst watched from the stands
The Dutchman will officially take over as manager once his work permit is finalised
Aribo was then denied by an excellent Hanlon block, before he sent a strike too high after some touchline trickery. Rangers badly needed more on his wavelength.
A clash between Morelos and Porteous enraged the Hibs centre-back, who writhed around after caught in the face. There looked to be no intent on the part of the Colombian, but Ross still vented towards the match officials.
He was happier with a 38th minute call by Clancy. In truth, it was a simple one for the referee after Steven Davis came through the back of Boyle’s right leg to topple the Australia winger and concede a penalty.
Only one man was ever going to take it. Stepping up with confidence, Boyle smashed the ball down the middle as McGregor dived to his right.
Getting Alfredo Morelos back to form will be high on Van Bronckhorst’s agenda
A three-goal lead at the break would surely have been insurmountable. Trimming it to two gave Rangers half a chance.
This time, bad defending was transferred to the opposite end of the pitch. Porteous took a weak swing at a Tavernier cross and sent the ball straight to Arfield inside the area. He accepted the gift by placing a left-foot finish beyond Macey.
Van Bronckhorst must have been sorely tempted to head downstairs and deliver a few choice words in the dressing room. Instead, he was spotted in animated conversation with Roy Makaay, who will form a key part of his new coaching team.
For Ross, that 40th minute concession had dulled just a little of the shine from an otherwise exemplary opening period. Ensuring Hibs stayed solid after the restart was essential.
He was forced into a change when Josh Doig pulled up and was replaced by Lewis Stevenson. By now, the Easter Road side had retreated. Sitting deep, they backed their organisation to pay off and challenged Rangers to break them down.
It could be considered risky in the sense that a single goal could shift all the momentum. But the minutes without their opponents making inroads.
McCallum replaced Ryan Kent with Fashion Sakala. Then Arfield and, bafflingly, Aribo made way for Ianis Hagi and Ryan Jack.
Macey escaped when a bad touch sent the ball against his own post. When Connor Goldson then missed a late sitter, firing high over the bar, Hibs knew they were safe.