FOR the Hibs manager Pat Fenlon and maybe even his players, the focus really was on three points and the chance to finish the league season in seventh place. Everyone else’s minds have long since wandered along the M8 to Hampden.
Scorer: Wotherspoon (79)
Referee: Brian Colvin
Hibs will be buoyed by the recent run of results which have given the side some real momentum heading into next Sunday’s Scottish Cup final. Unbeaten since the split, with three successive victories, including a derby win, they have boosted the confidence levels but they also know that Celtic are likely to pose more of a threat than their recent opposition.
“We were top six most of the season and we think we deserved to be in there. Our form didn’t come at the right time,” said matchwinner David Wotherspoon. “It’s a great wee run since the split to go unbeaten. It’s what we wanted to do, finish seventh and it’s good prep for the final. It’s not a derby [cup final] this time. Last year everyone was talking about it, but this year we’ve kept our heads and focused really well on the league and we’ve done ourselves credit.”
The points were a blessing, the seventh-place finish welcomed, but the real relief for Hibs was the fact that the players came through their final league game unscathed. Fenlon had rested a clutch of players for the midweek jaunt to Kilmarnock but they were back in the side yesterday, with SPL Player of the Year Leigh Griffiths still eyeing up a tally of 30 goals for the season. Everyone else just wanted him to get through the game without picking up any knock capable of keeping him out of the cup final.
The fact it was the talismanic frontman and the inspirational kid Alex Harris who were substituted in the 72nd and 75th minutes demonstrated their worth to the gaffer. “Leigh should have scored three or four today but we felt he’d made it that far, why risk tiredness or getting hurt? It was the same with Alex,” said Fenlon.
Having chanced his arm up to then, he was happy to wrap them in cotton wool and leave the task of tying up the three points to others.
It was Wotherspoon who obliged. With so many players vying for a place in the 16-man squad for Hampden, no one needed to remind the midfielder how vital a noteworthy performance was.
“Last year, I didn’t enjoy it at all,” said Wotherspoon. “I just wanted to be out there. And hopefully I can do that this week. I missed out on the semi as well which was a bit of a disappointment as well. But I got my chance against Kilmarnock and I tried my best. I did that again [yesterday] and luckily I managed to get the winning goal.”
That goal came just three minutes after he joined the action and certainly caused his manager to pay attention. A delivery from Lewis Stevenson on the left was met by Wotherspoon as he directed a powerful diagonal header past Steve Simonsen and into the goal.
“David’s goal was a fantastic finish and I was delighted for him – he’s been up and down this season but he’s a good lad,” said Fenlon, who was surprised that it was a headed finish.
“Yeah, I can’t remember scoring a header before,” admitted Wotherspoon. “I did one in training during the week, mind you. I won’t score many like that and it’s perfect timing with the Cup final coming up.”
It was a win Hibs totally merited. They dominated a Dundee side who have nothing left to play for. Eleven points adrift at the foot of the table, John Brown’s men may yet get a reprieve if Hearts are deemed to have breached SPL rules and it is proved that insolvency proceedings have already started against their majority shareholder UBIG. Yesterday, not even that could put a spring in Dundee’s step as they struggled to contribute to a match Hibs should have wrapped up sooner.
They would have done so if visiting goalkeeper Simonsen had not intervened and if Griffiths had been his usual clinical self. Instead, the Hibs striker squandered a few opportunities. But thanks to the emergence of youngsters such as Harris, they are not quite as one-dimensional as they were earlier in the term. “It’s really competitive for a place now,” said Wotherspoon. “The young kids have been brilliant. They play with so much freedom and it’s great to see. It’s a breath of fresh air to the squad. Alex’s pace just gives you such a lift. He’s been tremendous, he’s got great feet and Ross Caldwell and Danny Handling have been in and around the squad and hopefully they can continue the form into the final.”
But while Fenlon has options, he would like to see them burgeon. Defender Ryan McGivern was back in play yesterday and both Tim Clancy and James McPake are expected to join in full training on Tuesday. It gives Fenlon a selection headache but one he will relish.
Hibs: Williams, Maybury, Forster, Hanlon, McGivern, Harris (Wotherspoon 75), Taiwo, Claros, Stevenson, Caldwell, Griffiths (Doyle 73). Substitutes not used: Murdoch, Deegan, Done, Handling, Robertson.
Dundee: Simonsen, Irvine, Benedictus, Gallagher, Lockwood, McAlister, McBride, M Karr (Conroy 58), Toshney (Riley 63), Harkins, J Baird (Finnigan 73).
Substitutes not used: A Baird, Stewart, Nish, C Kerr.