Swapping between the unplayable and the unstoppable is becoming a situation for Steven Gerrard to savour.
Having lauded Alfredo Morelos with the former of those assessments after his barnstorming performance in the Europa League victory over FC Midtjylland, Gerrard began with the Colombian on the bench for this resumption of domestic duties.
That meant a start for Jermain Defoe. And what a response he delivered. A first hat-trick for Rangers was expertly bagged before making way for Morelos to deliver two of the final three blows in a ransacking of 10-man Hibernian.
Striker Jermain Defoe fired in three goals to help Rangers defeat Hibernian 6-1 at Ibrox
Alfredo Morelos came off the bench to score two late goals to complete the rout
This sharing of striking power will be vital if the Ibrox outfit are to extend their ambitions at home and abroad in the weeks and months ahead.
RANGERS: McGregor, Tavernier, Goldson, Katic, Flanagan (Halliday 80), Jack, Davis, Aribo, Jones (Stewart 76), Ojo, Defoe (Morelos 76).
SUBS NOT USED: Edmundson, Foderingham, Docherty, Arfield.
GOALS: Defoe 9, 15, 74, Morelos 77, 89 Ojo 90+2
YELLOW CARDS: Katic, Ojo
HIBERNIAN: Marciano, Whittaker, McGregor, Hanlon, Mackie, Mallan, Vela, Allan (Kamberi 67), Horgan (Gray 57), Doidge, Newell (Murray 45).
SUBS NOT USED: Slivka, Jackson, Maxwell, Shaw.
GOAL: Horgan 40
YELLOW CARDS: McGregor, Vela, Doidge
SENT OFF: Mackie
REFEREE: John Beaton (Scotland)
Defoe could have hit five or six as the Easter Road defence were utterly tormented by his movement. At 36, the Bournemouth loanee has lost little of instinct and intelligence that made him one of the English Premier League’s all-time leading marksmen.
After a start of complete dominance, Gerrard’s side briefly wobbled when pegged back to 2-1 by Daryl Horgan’s goal late in the first half.
However, the 54th minute dismissal of Sean Mackie for a second booking ended any hope of the Leith side competing. The floodgates, fitting given the weather, were properly opened in the final 15 minutes, with Sheyi Ojo getting in on the scoring act right at the end.
The opening 40 minutes were an onslaught. A relentless stream of Rangers attacking that met only sporadic resistance.
Ending the first half only 2-1 down must have felt akin to a lottery win for Paul Heckingbottom and his players. For Rangers, the five minutes of nerves they endured was less pleasant.
Part of you wanted to admire the ambition behind Heckingbottom’s willingness to place men ahead of the ball, with Horgan, Scott Allan and Joe Newell all in support of Christian Doidge. But the outcome, initially at least, was an exposed framework all too easily picked apart by confident opponents.
Hibs’ attempts to press high were evaded by midfield passing triangles to open paths through their defence. Retaining possession was equally problematic for those in green-and-white shirts.
It was an indication of things to come when, after three minutes, Defoe latched onto a spearing ball forward from Connor Goldson and only a less-than-perfect first touch prevented him from scoring.
Rangers boss Steven Gerrard attempts to issue instructions to his players in sodden conditions
Defoe opened the scoring at Ibrox after just nine minutes by pouncing on a rebound
As it was, he only had to wait a further six minutes. Ofir Marciano will be less than happy about how he dealt with a 25-yard left-foot strike from Ojo. Seemingly deceived, the Israeli goalkeeper made an awkward one-handed save to his left and Defoe pounced to polish off the rebound.
The lead was doubled after quarter of an hour with a classy move that pillaged its way through the toiling right-side of the visitors.
Steven Whittaker, formerly of this parish, was eliminated by Jordan Jones nicking the ball around him before sending Ojo haring into the area.
The former England international then slammed home a finish at the near post for his second
The Liverpool loanee’s cut-back on the slide was perfectly measured for Defoe’s run, with a slammed near-post finish completing the job despite Paul Hanlon’s despairing lunge.
At that point, it looked only a case of how many – in terms of both Rangers goals and bookings.
Referee John Beaton had boxed himself in with early yellow cards for Darren McGregor – who took down Jones – and Ojo, who caught Mackie on the slide.
The sodden pitch wasn’t conducive to perfectly controlled challenges and the cards kept on coming. Christian Doidge, Niko Katic, Josh Vela and Mackie made it half a dozen from Beaton – split 2-4 – before the interval brought calm.
The game was not a free-flowing affair and multiple players were booked for fouls
The fouls were partly a reflection of how stretched Hibs were looking. Connor Goldson’s header from a Jones cross was tipped over by Marciano before the Hibs no.1 similarly denied a James Tavernier free-kick.
Defoe burrowed into the penalty box to set up Joe Aribo, whose shot caused brief, misplaced celebrations in the stands by rippling the side-netting. The veteran striker then saw Marciano block well after he was released by Ojo, with another opportunity being scooped wide.
A third Rangers goal looked almost inevitable prior to the break. But it didn’t arrive. Instead a little fracture appeared in the home set-up.
Jon Flanagan gave the ball away before the danger was repelled by Katic. Then, almost out of nothing, a fabulous piece of creativity from Allan briefly propelled Heckingbottom’s men back into contention.
A boyhood Rangers fan who signed for Celtic, Allan was jeered from the start. His riposte was a beautifully disguised, inch-perfect through-ball that released Horgan for a crisp finish beyond McGregor.
Hibernian gave themselves hope when Daryl Horgan slotted home from Scott Allan’s pass
Rangers looked stunned, their previous assurance lost for the small remainder of the first half. The challenge for Hibs, of course, was to try and extend that uncertainty after the restart.
Horgan sent a stooping header over from an early set-piece to offer a promising start, but their cause was soon be depleted. This never looked like a match destined to finish 11 v 11.
Mackie’s first half caution had been for sending Ojo sprawling. His dismissal was confirmed when awkwardly raising an arm too block a dinked pass from Ojo.
Sean Mackie was shown a yellow card after committing a deliberate handball
The full-back optimistically claimed it had hit his shoulder. The officials disagreed.
Heckingbottom responded by withdrawing goalscorer Horgan to bring on defensive reinforcement in club captain David Gray.
Defoe and Jones had both gone close to making the numerical superiority count before Ojo danced his way along the 18-yard line.
Another powerful thump by his left boot was kept out by a superb, stretching save from Marciano.
Then Jack drove inwards from the right flank to pick out Tavernier. The Ibrox skipper really should have done better than whip a powerful drive over the bar.
The game was settled when Defoe rose highest to head in from Steven Davis’ cross
Gerrard craved a settling third goal. And it finally arrived with 15 minutes remaining.
Steven Davis was the creator with a lovely, weaving run deep into away territory before hanging up a cross to the far post. Defoe’s downward header did the rest.
It was the Englishman’s last involvement as Morelos was summoned to make a mark within three minutes of his introduction.
Just minutes after coming off the bench, Morelos was able to add his team’s fourth
The Colombian was on hand to fire home his second of the game from Greg Stewart’s pass
A nutmeg on Hanlon allowed him to pick up speed, surging past Vela and squeezing in a low, near-post shot.
He wasn’t done there, either.
In the 89th minute, he latched onto a nice little pass from fellow substitute Greg Stewart and firmly finished past the beleaguered Marciano.
Ojo’s deflected drive in stoppage time completed a rout.
Liverpool loanne Sheyi Ojo hammered in the sixth and final goal through a crowd of bodies