IT was the day Rangers could have taken a stride towards the Premiership but turned out to be the one that Hibernian took a significant step forward. They, crucially, remain a few behind, though.

The finishing line is still some way in the distance and it will be some time before one of these two bursts through the tape and back to the top flight. Victory here was a boost for Hibernian but they are still the ones playing catch up.

Mark Warburton’s side travelled to Easter Road seeking their twelfth successive Championship win but headed back to Ibrox having suffered their first league defeat, goals from Jason Cummings and Paul Hanlon either side of Lee Wallace’s deflected equaliser enough to condemn the Gers to only their second loss of the season.

Their lead at the top is not the eleven points they had set their sights on, but now only five after Hibs continued their own impressive run of form with their most important win to date.

Rangers are still favourites to claim the second tier crown and it would still be a surprise if it is not Warburton and his players who are celebrating come the end of the campaign. But this was proof that the Light Blues are not going to have everything their own way this term.

Warburton was satisfied with the performance overall of his side, pointing to their possession and their chances created as two of the positives to take from an ultimately disappointing afternoon.

This is a fixture from which Rangers must learn, must improve and must quickly recover, however, as they look to get back on track after a rare stumble.

The fact that Hibernian ultimately edged this encounter was not completely unexpected but there were shocks before a ball was kicked as Warburton moved away from his tried and trusted methods and the blue print that had stood his side in such good stead to date this term.

The two changes of personnel – as Danny Wilson and Nicky Clark were handed starting berths – were big calls from Warburton. The change of shape was even more of a surprise, though.

For the first time, the Gers boss ditched his favoured 4-3-3 formation. It was a risk and one that didn’t work as Wilson joined Dominic Ball and Rob Kiernan in the Light Blues defensive line.

Warburton stated pre-match that Wilson would have to play his way back into the team after dropping out of the side through injury. This was not what the former Hearts skipper would have had in mind.

He lasted less than an hour and failed to impress. He was not alone, though, as Warburton’s side were second best for most of a lacklustre opening 45 minutes.

Rangers’ passing was slack, their midfield overrun as Alan Stubbs’ side looked more dangerous. Their only regret would have been that they didn’t capitalise more when they had a chance. The knockout blow was delivered later.

After appeals – and strong ones – for a penalty were waved away by referee John Beaton when Lewis Stevenson bundled over Jason Holt inside the opening minutes, there was little for the 3,800 strong travelling Gers support to get excited about. A drive from James Tavernier that was well saved by Mark Oxley was one of the few chances Rangers were able to carve out as their possession counted for little.

It was Hibernian who took the lead on eleven minutes, Cummings spinning Wilson and unleashing a terrific strike that curled into the far corner of Wes Foderingham’s net. As Easter Road erupted, Rangers were stunned.

The early goal was a signal of intent from the hosts but they couldn’t take advantage of a disorientated and disjointed Rangers once again, Dominique Malonga firing just over and Cummings seeing another strike from distance smothered by Foderingham.

They were misses Hibs would regret just seconds after the restart as Rangers pulled themselves level, Wallace’s strike deflecting off former Gers defender Darren McGregor and leaving Oxley wrong-footed.

It was the start of a frantic spell as Malonga and John McGinn both came close before Martyn Waghorn was denied and another effort from Wallace struck the bar.

Within minutes, Warburton decided it was time for change. Off came Wilson and Clark, a willing runner but who had contributed little, as Gedion Zelalem and Nathan Oduwa entered the action. There was a more familiar shape and style about Rangers now.

With the Gers showing more attacking intent, chances were being created in quick succession at both ends of the park, Foderingham saving well from Cummings and Oduwa hitting the post.

After McGinn saw a free-kick tipped over, his next contribution proved crucial as Hanlon headed home a corner from the former St Mirren midfielder, who was the most impressive player on the park.

Rangers had it all to do. For the first time on league duty, the challenge proved too great for Warburton’s side as a couple of late chances, including one for Waghorn, came to nothing. The unbeaten run was over.

Amidst the disappointment and frustration, there was anger. Not, Warburton insisted, over the manner of their performance, but the fact that their efforts at Easter Road had not been rewarded.

The Ibrox boss will now hope to use those feelings, the negatives of the day, and turn them into positives.

This was a setback for Rangers, but it is still Warburton and his players who are further along the road to the Premiership.