Boxing day arrived with fans having enjoyed the previous days festivities in the best way they could. In this year of years, Christmas was different for so many of us, as has this football season. Although it feels like a long time before our fans will be back at Ibrox once again, our team is doing an excellent job of representing us in our absence, and yet again they secured three precious points to extend our lead at the top of the table, and we could enjoy the rest of our December 26th in total comfort. That was not a feeling we had during the game however, as it was a tough victory by the solitary goal. What Hibernian are going to give you is a tough test, they are one of the better sides we come up against in the country and as a result a win against them is always going to be a good result, especially in the somewhat unpredictable conditions we had on Saturday. After the initial basketball-like feel to them game in the opening exchanges, the game settled in our favour with a lot of work going into the passing in the final third. This finally paid off just after the half hour with a well worked move involving four of our most important players in the game.
The second half again had that sense of a real back and forth before the game again levelled out, but this time it was Hibs who had the majority of the ball and chances, but we held out for another clean sheet, 16 in 20 league games, an utterly impressive statistic. This certainly goes down as the kind of game that we would have dropped points in last season, as have a few games that we have had this season. But we continue to show that we have learnt many ways to win games, and we have also had our fair share of luck too. But, you can only make your own luck! However, do not let that phrase make you believe that this was a game that we had to hold out to win, we are talking in relative terms about the kind of game we had here compared to other matches in the league that have been a lot more comfortable. The tide has not turned, the momentum has not switched, we are still by far and away the most dominant of teams.
Here is how you rated our players after our very important win over Hibs.
Allan McGregor – 6.9 (7)
As is so often the case for Allan McGregor, both this season and in the past, his match was defined by one moment. Hibs had a shot in the last 10 minutes of the game that looked like it had the potential to curl in. McGregor dived to parry the ball away in what was less of a dramatic save but a very important one nonetheless. He has been really important to our defensive dominance, a lot of that is down to the assuredness he provides in goal, but perhaps knowing that we have a more than capable back up to provide cover also helps. Either way, it has been one of the best seasons for goalkeepers in a long time.
James Tavernier – 6.4 (7)
I think we are naturally only interested in rating the performance of both full backs in an attacking sense, given that they are so important to our attacking style nowadays. But I don’t believe that, in a match like this, we can discount the defensive work put in by both full backs. From Tavernier’s point of view I thought he was really good, winning balls in the air and keeping tabs on his side. There was less opportunity to attack but what I was really pleased with was the fact he allowed himself to worry less about trying to run forward but making sure we did not concede anything. All part of being an all round defender.
Connor Goldson – 6.9 (7)
Hibs had that big chance that was referenced earlier but they had a number of other opportunities as well, one of which was brilliantly prevented by an excellent Connor Goldson tackle. The timing was absolutely crucial and he executed it wonderfully, it was as good as an amazing McGregor save. Goldson was often trying the long diagonal balls, which was a bold strategy given the conditions on the day were rather windy. It wasn’t paying off, but gladly he stopped those attempts as the game went on. A good opportunity to score from a corner, but his header was well saved.
Leon Balogun – 6.9 (6)
Balogun had a number of other chances, one in each half that he was really unfortunate not to put away. A clever side footed effort in the box was cleared on the line by the Hibs defender, and another attempt from a corner in the second half which their keeper somehow managed to keep from crossing the line. Unlucky in that respect, but his selection in the side, though understandable given the athleticism he offers at the back, still had me slightly concerned given the dip in quality from Helander to him. Not to say he is a bad option, far from it, but you sacrifice the assuredness given by Fil for the pace offered by Leon.
Borna Barisic – 6.6 (7)
In the same way that Tavernier was doing the work needed on the right, Barisic did similar on the left hand side. A lack of set piece joy contributes to a lesser rating for the Croatian, but he also sacrificed that attacking flair he gives for the sake of making sure Hibs did not get many crosses in from their right hand side, a job he did very well.
Glen Kamara – 7.3 (8)
This is definitely the kind of game that Kamara thrives in, passing and moving the ball around really well and making really good runs both with and without the ball. His strength in the centre makes a really big difference to how we win the midfield battle, and it is absolutely his intelligence that has come on leaps and bounds to get us to the stage that we consider him one of the key midfielders we have, a long way from where many considered him even at the start of the season. I mentioned his passing, but the stand out was the ball he played to Roofe, opening up the Hibernian defence to help get the crucial goal. That’s why he is important to us.
Steven Davis – 7.0 (7)
A common theme of the last number of games that he has started has been about the control he has given the match, so important to what we want to achieve. He sweeps up the ball really well in the bigger games, always working to make sure the ball is in our control. That is why the possession stats in the first half were so heavily in our favour. Perhaps his loss of control in the second half was a reason why the stats swung the way they did.
Joe Aribo – 7.8 (8) – Man of the Match
A player who was so heavily criticised following the League Cup exit, but since then his performances have been so much better. It almost feels like he needed a wake up call to get back to the performances at the start of the season, and he has been playing like that since. One of the most impressive improvements he showed at the beginning of this campaign was his strength, something that was less obvious since his comeback from injury. His strength was key in helping set up the goal, holding off his marker to find Kamara who took the move on from there. He also did a great job of letting the clock run down in the corner in stoppage time, flicking the ball past his men and holding them off at the same time. Smart, intelligent play from a guy continuing to show his potential for us again.
Ianis Hagi – 7.3 (8)
Ianis is another player who has been improving significantly of late, and he is the one who converts the crucial move. Prior to that he had a shot on the edge of the area that just went wide, but his total game has really come on in the sense that he seems far less afraid to “go for it”. The boldness of his run into the area to take that gamble to get on the end of Roofe’s ball to convert just shows how much that has improved. I don’t know whether the Hagi of a month ago would find himself in that position.
Kemar Roofe – 6.7 (7)
He demands so much from his teammates around him, wanting those on his side to put in the same workrate as him. Playing again as the central attacker, he does do the same task as the other players to play in that position, Morelos and Itten, but I just wonder whether the absolute best of Roofe is lost when he is in that central role. So much of what he has done so well has come from cutting inside, that momentum really works. He grabbed the assist with his ball that cut across the centre of the box for Hagi to tuck in, and was also setting up chances for others in the team as well. Unselfish, but I still think he should be played wide, but not at the expense of Hagi.
Ryan Kent – 5.5 (6)
Once again the question over the output of Ryan Kent is coming to light. This is no slight on either his character nor his work ethic, he is still trying really hard, but it is getting to the stage where we ask whether he is trying too hard. Nothing was really coming off for him bar some positive passes, which might have been more noted had those moves worked out. You have every right to question whether the effort that he puts in is enough to justify his continued selection, especially when many would put him on the bench in place of Morelos, moving Hagi to the left and Roofe to the right. Like some other players who seem to react to being rested, I wonder whether Kent would get the same benefit.
Scott Arfield – 4.0 (5)
Sad to see him go off so close after coming on with what looks like an injury that will see him out of action for a (hopefully short) period of time. It might help him realise his form again of course, as he has struggled a bit more of late in terms of providing the same consistency. I do wonder whether his absence will mean Tavernier’s form will not quite hit the same heights though.
Alfredo Morelos – 5.8 (6)
I liked this substitute appearance. This was a player who knew what he needed to do, and looked far more fresh in doing so. I would certainly like to see him back in from the start, he feels like he is getting back to that prime level again.
Bongani Zungu – 4.8 (5)
I think we will often see him make cameo appearances toward the end of games as he clearly offers extra security in the middle of the park. I see no issue with that right now, that is for certain.