You’ve done it once, now go and do it again. That was the message from Hibs boss Pat Fenlon today after watching the Easter Road outfit’s six match unbeaten run in the SPL brought to an end.
However, recalling how his players bounced back from an opening day mauling by Dundee United to achieve that feat, Fenlon is convinced the team spirit, not to mention the undoubted ability which rests within his squad, will see them shake off the disappointment of twice passing up the chance to go top of the league. They did so by surrendering a two goal lead against Inverness Caley seven days earlier and again as goals from Nial McGinn and Gavin Rae earned Aberdeen their first home win of the season, a result which allowed Celtic to, some might say belatedly, take pole position.
But as we near the end of the first round of fixtures, only three points separate Neil Lennon’s side from St Johnstone in seventh, with only goal difference sorting out the order between Kilmarnock, St Mirren and Hibs following a weekend of eye-catching results.
While Celtic will now be expected to disappear over the horizon – although perhaps not as quickly as most might have predicted before a ball was kicked – the signs are there that for the rest, with the possible exception of Dundee, who are already in danger of finding themselves isolated at the foot of the table, there’s not going to be much between them when the dust finally settles next spring.
String a few positive results together and the effect can be dramatic as Aberdeen can testify, this victory ending a record of four successive draws for Craig Brown’s players while making it seven without defeat, the Dons having started the day in eighth place and five points off the lead only to end it sixth and three adrift of the leaders.
Today that’s the challenge again facing Fenlon and his players; to prove as they did following that disastrous trip to Tannadice that one bad result isn’t going to knock them off course. Fenlon said: “I think previously when we have had a bad result there’s been a lot of negativity. We just have to be positive. We might have won this match, but now we have to move on, put it behind us, look at the mistakes we made and try to rectify them.
“Saturday is another home game and we have to try to make sure we pick up three points at home most weeks, that’s the important thing.”
Hibs, of course, remain undefeated at Easter Road thus far, as Fenlon seeks a vast improvement in his side’s home record having gone through the whole of last season with just two SPL wins in Edinburgh, the visit of basement outfit Dundee presenting them with an immediate opportunity to start building again.
Fenlon said: “We’ve started at home quite decent compared to last season and we have to continue that form at home.”
Although Fenlon and his players will seek to put this setback behind them they will, no doubt, think of what might have been over the course of their past two games, admitting the draw against Caley felt more like a defeat given the advantage they’d held while the Irishman believes his side should have taken something from their latest outing.
Brown and the whole of Aberdeen would argue otherwise, naturally, the former Scotland manager adamant the Dons fully deserved their win as Fenlon saw a draw as possibly the fairer result. There’s plenty of merit for both points of view with the Dons and Hibs each creating enough goal-scoring opportunities to justify their respective claims although, of course, the only statistic which counts is that Aberdeen took two of their’s and Hibs only one.
That said, even Aberdeen probably found themselves a little taken aback to have found themselves ahead having spent the first four minutes of the game penned in around their own penalty area, the pressure only relieved by a huge clearance from Andy Considine which found team-mate Scott Vernon wrestling with Paul Hanlon for possession 25 yards out.
The Dons striker managed to out-muscle his opponent before delivering a shot which one-time Colchester United team-mate Ben Williams, in the Hibs goal, could only push aside, leaving McGinn to slam the ball into the empty net.
Leigh Griffiths should have hauled Hibs level six minutes later when a wonderful piece of vision from Paul Cairney picked him out all alone inside Aberdeen’s box. But Griffiths, normally so deadly in such situations, struck a shot at a decent height for Dons goalkeeper Jamie Langfield to make a smart save.
Williams pulled off a point-blank stop from Stephen Hughes to keep Hibs in the game, while Aberden howled for a penalty as a Vernon shot appeared to catch James McPake’s arm before the Capital side stunned their hosts with an incredible strike from Eoin Doyle.
The blustery conditions had done neither side any favours and probably had much to do with Hughes not quite managing to get much purchase on a headed clearance, but even as the ball dropped for Doyle there appeared little danger until the Irishman wheeled and hit it in the one movement, his shot rifling between a bemused Langfield and his near post.
It was a surreal moment, even the Hibs fans on the far side who had the best view of the incident, momentarily silent until they realised it had hit the back of Langfield’s net rather than having ruffled the sidenetting.
Griffiths forced Langfield into a sharp stop on the stroke of half-time with a precisely struck free-kick but, as Fenlon admitted, Aberdeen began the second half the brighter, substitute Josh Magennis sending a header over when he should at least have worked Williams although Hibs had half-chances, David Wotherspoon failing to find the target from Tim Clancy’s quick throw before Cairney could do no better than knock Doyle’s pass, which admittedly had come at an awkward height to him, over the bar.
Hibs were to rue those missed opportunities when Rae was on hand to bundle Magennis’ low cross over the line for what proved to be the winner although the midfielder almost found the far corner of his own net as he got his head to Griffith’s inswinging corner before Mark Reynolds got back to boot clear after substitute Shefki Kuqi had managed to squeeze the ball beyond Langfield in the very last minute of the game.
Fenlon said: “We started brilliantly but were disappointed with the goals we lost. However, there wasn’t much in the game and probably a draw might have been a fair result.”