PATIENCE paid off for Hibs in a match which should have been over as a contest long before the closing minutes.
Without ever reaching dizzying heights of inventiveness, Bobby Williamson’s side created a fair number of chances in addition to a header from Mixu Paatelainen and a free-kick from Tam McManus which secured the three points.
In the process of clinching victory, and with it fourth place in the table, Hibs broke a bad habit. Too often in this season they have conceded late goals – notably in their last match against Hearts. In this match, though, as thoughts began to turn to the next Edinburgh derby, they provided convincing evidence of their improved mental stamina.
There was a hesitant look to a recast Hibs side, with Ian Murray starting on the bench because he was carrying a strain and Paul Fenwick rested following the birth of his twins. Aberdeen began brightly, but the best they could manage was a low shot from Derek Young which was easily saved by Tony Caig.
By midway through the first half, Yannick Zambernardi was showing the decisiveness which later saw him named man of the match, while Paatelainen’s aerial prowess was beginning to pose problems for the Dons defence.
The Finn played all day with his characteristic industriousness, but he was far from being the only hard-working member of his team. Any time Aberdeen looked like troubling Zambernardi and his fellow defenders, the Hibs midfield managed to get back en masse to snuff out the threat.
Hard work, however, was about the only virtue on show in the opening 45 minutes. After the break, both teams played with more urgency – which was the least they could do after such an undistinguished first half.
Paatelainen should have scored the opening goal in the 62nd minute. Put through on goal by Alen Orman after Aberdeen had failed to clear their lines, he sent his shot wide.
He managed something similar ten minutes from time, but, by then, he had at least notched the opener with a well-angled header.
McManus, the young striker, scored Hibs’ second with a delightful free-kick which curled teasingly away from David Preece.
It was a case of third time lucky for McManus who saw Peter Kjaer pull off a stunning save from a similar free-kick when Aberdeen visited Easter Road on the opening day of the season and again in the last derby when he was denied what would have proved to be a winning goal by Hearts keeper Roddy McKenzie. Having thus ended a mediocre recent run, Hibs were again very much in the hunt for a European place.
Given the state of the Premierleague, an upper-half finish should’ve been the very least of their expectations, for the seven-point gap between the top six and the bottom six which existed was becoming close to unbridgeable.
The quartet of teams behind the Old Firm – Kilmarnock, Dunfermline and the Edinburgh two – were effectively in a mini-league of their own, and the heightened competition caused by the their proximity was spurring each of them on.