HIBS brought their early season drought to an end, and finally put points on the table with an important victory away to Motherwell.
Motherwell 0-2 Hibs
August 31, 2002
In any other season, Hibs’ sound thrashing in the Edinburgh derby on only their second outing of the campaign – especially since they had lost at home to Aberdeen in their opener – would have been enough to cause a scramble among those in constant search of a juicy crisis.
And so to Motherwell, a taxing enough place at any time, but one which looked like a harder climb than a thickly-greased pole for the visitors.
Of the team which Alex McLeish led to third place in the Premier League and to the Tennent’s Scottish Cup final not much more than a year before, only four players – Nick Colgan, Paul Fenwick, Mathias Jack and Mixu Paatelainen – took the field.
This turned out to be a classic example of a book whose strange-looking cover bore no relation to its contents. What Hibs had to offer, indeed, was an engrossing, unputdownable page-turner. It transpired that it was Derek Townsley who dunnit, but the rest of the characters made valuable contributions to the drama.
After an hour of virtually unchallenged dominance, from which they had fashioned only a one-goal lead when it should have been at least three, Hibs were suddenly skewered by a quick free-kick which released the Motherwell substitute, Steven Ferguson, into the penalty box on the right.
The young striker’s angled, low shot streaked past Colgan, who heard, rather than saw, the ball thud off the bottom of his right-hand post. If it seemed, in that instant, that the game was up for the home side, the impression was dispelled soon after, when James McFadden ran on to a long, speculative clearance from his own defence.
With only Colgan to beat, an equaliser looked inevitable until the teenager hesitated before trying to carry the ball wide of the goalkeeper.
Colgan, sensing the youngster’s uncertainty, was on him quickly, going to ground and stretching out his left arm to snatch the ball.
It was directly from that incident that the game produced its climax, the completion of Townsley’s double that assured Hibs of victory. Paco Luna, as he had been from the start, was the chief tormentor, battling into space on the right side of the area before seeing his attempted cross blocked.
The ball came back to him and this time the Spaniard saw Townsley drift to the far post and deliberately placed the ball square on his forehead.
The rest was a training exercise, the big midfielder nodding it into an unprotected net from about four yards. Townsley’s opener had been substantially more difficult, but he made it look simple. While the pack of home defenders and visiting forwards jostled in anticipation of a cross from a free kick 25 yards from goal, Townsley decided to forgo the complicated route and clipped the ball high to the left of Stevie Woods.
This was an encouraging day for Bobby Williamson, whose 4-3-3 formation was a declaration of intent that was faithfully vindicated by Luna, Paatelainen and the teenager, Steven Whittaker, in attack and the marauding Townsley in midfield.
Hibs: Colgan, Dempsie, Zambernardi, Fenwick, Murray, Townsley, Whittaker, Matyus, Jack, Paatelainen, Luna.