BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
Farid El Alagui believes his Rangers counterparts will be casting nervous glances over their shoulders after Hibernian slashed the gap at the summit of the Championship to mere goal difference.
In a title race which has scant room for slip-ups, the Gers dropped an unlikely two points against Livingston on Saturday, allowing the capital club to restore parity at the top of the table with a 1-0 win over Alloa.
Little wonder, then, that head coach Alan Stubbs declared the victory, which was secured thanks to a composed finish by the irrepressible Jason Cummings, one of Hibs’ most important of the season.
Cummings scampered on to a through-pass from John McGinn – increasingly becoming the perfect blend of craft and graft – before sliding a fine low shot beyond David Crawford for his 14th goal of the season.
Stubbs’ side have taken just three weeks to obliterate what was an eight-point deficit when Rangers visited Easter Road on November 1, and El Alagui believes their current form will be sending shockwaves to Govan.
“If I was a Rangers player I would be looking in the mirror and saying: ‘Hibs are here!’” said the French-Moroccan striker.
“Yes, they had an impressive start – like Hearts did last year – but that gave us the desire to make sure the gap didn’t get too big.
“When we beat them 2-1, it was a message to them that we are ready to fight until the end of the season.
“The gaffer told us in the changing room, this was one of the most important wins we have had. We know it was not pretty, but games like this show how strong we are.
“Even if the game is not the best we can win it in a dirty way. Last year we could have crumbled with a draw or a loss.”
Even amid a fraught title race, there was time for a cathartic moment in the second half when El Alagui entered the fray to replace Malonga.
Recreation Park was the venue at which he suffered a ruptured Achilles 15 months ago. He made a curtailed comeback at the tail-end of last season, only for complications over the summer relating to the surgery to result in another lengthy lay-off.
His outing on Saturday was only his second appearance of the season, and most certainly the most poignant, as evidenced by the fact Stubbs left his selection entirely up to the player.
“The manager had a chat with me before the game, asking if i was alright to play,” he continued. “I told him: ‘It’s like falling from a bike, you just need to jump on and go again.’
“There was no chance I was going to say no. When you work so hard to come back from an injury, if someone asks you if you are okay to play – anywhere in the world – then you say: ‘yes boss, I’m ready’.
“When you come here you obviously have the bad memories straight away. But when you warm up and then get on with the game you start to forget about all that.”