IT WAS his first game back after it was confirmed that his loan spell would be extended to the end of the season. The first game back since his latest Twitter transgression.
Hibs - Griffiths (49); Dundee: Baird (8)
While his judgment off the pitch remains suspect at times, it is Leigh Griffiths’ contribution on the pitch that earns him the patience of his Edinburgh employers.
He rewarded their tolerance again yesterday. After a first half in which the movement and adventure of the visitors unsettled their hosts and left Pat Fenlon’s men chasing the game, it was the league’s second top scorer, who again found the net at the beginning of the second half to get them back on level terms.
Hibs were without the suspended Paul Cairney and, whether taking time to get going again after the winter break or blighted by a sense of complacency against a team they had steamrollered the last time they met at this ground, they were nowhere near as effective as they needed to be and had goalkeeper Ben Williams to thank for a couple of vital saves, from Steven Milne and then Colin Nish, with manager Fenlon admitting they had been forced to rely more heavily on the former Manchester United keeper than they ever should have to at home. Especially against a side cut adrift at the foot of the league table and scrambling to find a way back.
“It wasn’t good enough,” said the disappointed Hibs boss, who described his men as lethargic. “We didn’t start on the front foot, the passing was sloppy and we didn’t play well.”
Dundee are a team with very little to lose and they seemed to approach the match with that attitude. Any points are welcome but, with the gap between themselves and Ross County still in double figures, manager Barry Smith will have hoped for more of a return when he sent out a side with no fewer than four strikers strung across the park.
There was some encouragement, not just in the performance and the quality of their goal but the fact that they made a contest of things. That was something they had failed to do the last time they had travelled to Leith, in October.
“As well as the effort and commitment we had shown in recent games, there was a wee bit of quality as well in the passing and movement and the way the strikers all worked together,” said Smith.
In fact, their start to the match was everything Hibs’ wasn’t. It was bright, bold, fluid and creative as the front men linked up well to carve their way through the home rearguard and test the keeper.
They did so wonderfully in the eighth minute when Nish ultimately played in John Baird who left Ryan McGivern stranded as he turned and unleashed a lovely strike that defied the outstretched Williams.
“It shows how far we have come,” said Smith. “We were turned over 3-0 the last time we were here. We didn’t really turn up that day but we worked well for the point this time.”
With Nish and Milne in the advanced positions, Mark Stewart and Baird bolstered the attacking options from the flanks. It was bold and it was effective for decent spells of the match. With Jim McAlister battling to control things in the heart of the park, it left Hibs with more than a few headaches in the opening exchanges.
In the 16th minute, it was Milne who benefitted from the attacking interplay and advanced on Williams but the keeper got down to block and James McPake cleared the loose ball.
Hibs edged back into it but the passages of play and the final ball were too pedestrian, too insipid to really trouble a side willing to give their all, as Dundee seemed intent on doing, not only for themselves but also for their manager, who had seemed in danger of the axe before being granted a reprieve ahead of the winter shutdown.
But it must have been an uncomfortable interval for the home players because they embarked on the second half with a greater sense of purpose and, within three minutes, their woes were eased as Griffiths lashed home a long-range free-kick in from the right.
They piled on some pressure on the Dens Park men after that but their guests remained resolute. They may not have taken all three points but they were determined that they wouldn’t be denied at least a share of the spoils and the sense of belief that there might just still be something to play for.
Hibs: Williams, Clancy, McPake, Hanlon, McGivern, Wotherspoon, Deegan (Taiwo 83), Claros, Stevenson (Handling 81), Griffiths, Doyle. Subs not used: Murdoch, Maybury, Kuqi, Harris, Horribine.
Dundee: Douglas, Irvine, Gallagher, Toshney, Easton, McAlister, Davidson, J Baird, Milne (Conroy 86), Nish, Stewart. Subs not used: A Baird, Lockwood, McBride, Benedictus, McGregor, Boyle.
Referee: Craig Charleston.