HIBERNIAN hauled themselves a point clear of bottom-placed Dunfermline while Aberdeen fell out of the top six as a result of this industrious, though always entertaining draw at Easter Road.
In truth there was little between the two teams in terms of the skill quotient, and the workrate of both was exemplary, though top quality play, particularly in the final third, was lacking by both sides.
The visitors were missing more than half a team through injury, and that gave the likes of recent signing Stephen Hughes and teenager Mitch Megginson the chance to consolidate their positions in the first XI. The latter certainly did his reputation no harm.
For Hibs, the suspensions of Leigh Griffiths, Paul Hanlon and James McPake perhaps accelerated the debut of last week’s signing Jorge Claros, the Honduran proving to be a neat passer and very cool and collected on the ball – one to watch.
With his arrival, manager Pat Fenlon has put as much as he possibly can of his own stamp on the team and hard-working ball players are clearly what he likes. The Hibs squad have shown from the start of his managership that they know that only supreme effort will get them away from the relegation mire, and they showed it again yesterday. The men in green chased everything and gave their all for 93 minutes, and if sheer slog can guarantee you survival in the SPL then more of the same will keep Hibs up.
Aberdeen were equally Stakhanovite, and should have been ahead after three minutes. Scott Vernon went wide and his low, driven cross was just touched past by Megginson.
Hibs moved upfield and Sean O’Hanlon headed over from George Francomb’s corner before David Wotherspoon brought out the best in Jason Brown with a thumping shot that the goalkeeper slapped away high to his left. Wotherspoon and Fraser Fyvie enjoyed some personal jousts as the play became bogged down in midfield and Hibs were slightly in the ascendancy as the first quarter came and went, Isaiah Osbourne seeing Brown save his effort.
At the other end, Megginson was proving a handful, with one particular cross being missed by Vernon when, as Craig Brown put it, “I could have run from the dug out and put it in.”
Graham Stack did well to save a Megginson shot and the Hibs’ keeper benefited from Josh Magennis heading the ball straight at him.
There were few clear chances in the second half, but a fair amount of controversy.
Referee Crawford Allan was clearly tired of doing nothing when just before the hour mark he booked on-loan Wolves defender Matt Doherty for disputing a free-kick awarded for a firm but fair challenge on Josh Magennis.
The referee compounded his felony in the eyes of the Hibs fans less than two minutes later when he failed to award a penalty for what appeared to be handball by Andrew Considine, practically on the goalline. Allan turned down a similar penalty claim by Hibs a few minutes later, but also ignored claims that O’Hanlon had handled in the other box.
In the final quarter, the play fairly opened out and became almost end-to-end stuff. O’Hanlon cleared brusquely when Aberdeen guddled the ball in the six yard box, while Reynolds dived to head the danger away at the other end.
As the clock ticked away, substitute Mohamed Chalali headed just wide from a corner before unlucky Clark Robertson sustained a serious-looking knee injury – he is only just back from an ankle problem – in foiling Wotherspoon’s shot and had to be replaced by Youi Mawene.
Hibs tried manfully for the winner, Stevenson, O’Donovan, O’Connor and Claros all having efforts late on, but they came to nothing.
The Hibs fans applauded their players at the end. You sensed it was for their industry, for there was no lack of that, and with Claros in Leith, that necessary quality could have arrived. Aberdeen manager Brown got it right afterwards when he said: “A draw would have been acceptable to both teams, but particularly to us as we came here with so many injuries.”
He predicted that Hibs could now go on a good run, which brought a heartfelt “please God” from opposite number Fenlon.