Motherwell boss Stuart McCall would regard this as the seven-goal thriller it was but for Hibs manager Pat Fenlon it was simply another night of despair, one on which the deep-seated problems which have dogged the Easter Road side all season were all too apparent.
Fifty-four goals lost, the equivalent of two in each and every one of the 27 SPL matches played so far tells the story. This result merely underlines it, to score three goals away from home and yet depart without a point was, as Ivan Sproule admitted, “criminal”.
Leading as they have done on numerous occasions, Hibs simply couldn’t find it within themselves to hold on for even one precious point, remaining locked with Dunfermline at the foot of the table with only goal difference in their favour.
At half-time Fenlon’s players looked good for some measure of reward through Isaiah Osbourne’s first goal for the club but yet again one of those momentary but constant lapses in concentration proved so costly, the ball allowed to bounce in the penalty area, Matt Doherty weak with an attempted header back to goalkeeper Graham Stack who, in attempting to retrieve the situation was adjudged to have brought down Henrik Ojamaa. Michael Higdon made no mistake from the penalty spot before Jamie Murphy fired the Lanarkshire side ahead.
Doherty appeared to have made amends when he hauled Hibs level only for Higdon to score again with a spectacular overhead kick after Ojamaa, who terrorised the Easter Road defence throughout the 90 minutes, had seen Stack touch his powerful shot onto the bar.
Doherty then hauled Ojamaa down to allow Higdon to claim his third via the spot again before Sproule gave Hibs a glimmer of hope with a deflected shot only for the Capital side to run out of time.
Hibs had, in Fenlon’s estimation, “killed themselves”, the manager adding: “Motherwell did play well in the second half but we gave away sloppy goals, we didn’t clear our lines when we needed to. We are disappointed, we’ve come and got three goals and got nothing out of the game.
“I felt the work-rate and effort of the players was there. They worked really hard and on another night we would have got something but to score three and give away the goals we did is ludicrous.
“We knew with us having played well in the first half Motherwell would come back out and have a go at us so we spoke at half-time of keeping the crowd quiet, of not giving them anything to get their teeth into but then we give them the incentive of that first penalty after just two minutes.”
This match was, of course, a re-run of the game which was doomed never to end because of floodlight failure, the three months since being a period of virtually unremitting misery for Hibs while Motherwell’s fortunes have taken a decided turn for the better to the extent they now enjoy a lead of 12 points over Hearts in the race for third place and now even have their eyes on a possible Champions League spot with Rangers, bruised and battered by the almost daily revelations about their financial woes, only three ahead.
Back on December 2, McCall’s side had run out for that Friday night experiment without a win in seven matches, a run encompassing two months, whereas they came into this one having won four successive matches at Fir Park and unbeaten in their last six.
No doubt many of those draped in green and white who pitched up at Fir Park last night did so wondering just how their side might have fared over the course of the intervening period had the original fixture not been brought to a premature end after just 45 minutes before a floodlight fire saw Fir Park evacuated.
At that point Hibs were leading through Garry O’Connor’s 16th-minute strike, Motherwell’s performance such on the night, Higdon admitted before kick-off this time round, that if either side had wanted the game abandoned at half-time, it was McCall’s men.
At the same stage in this one they might have been thinking along the same lines. Leigh Griffiths’ pace and movement had already been causing the home side problems and the little striker was alive to the possibilities when Tom Hateley slipped as he made for team-mate Tim Clancy’s pass, the on-loan Wolves hitman latching on to the ball, rounding goalkeeper Darren Randolph and unselfishly squaring it for Osbourne to tap home from three yards.
Motherwell suddenly looked all at sea, but slowly they regained their composure to force Graham Stack into two saves in quick succession, the Hibs goalie touching aside a Higdon header and then pushing away a low angled drive from dangerman Daley. Although under a bit of pressure a defence which had conceded five only a few days ago was resolute. At times it may not have been pretty, safety first stuff on a number of occasions but highly effective, particularly with Griffiths switching from flank to flank to present his back four with an “out ball.”
And the Hibs fans at the other end of the ground thought Osbourne had done it again five minutes from the interval, the powerful midfielder striding forward to dispatch a shot which was only inches wide, the cheers from a large travelling support – which looked far in excess of the 847 said to have made the journey – dying in their throats as they realised the ball had hit the outside of the net.
The game, however, changed dramatically as Hibs’ ability for losing a goal immediately after the interval cost them dearly again. Doherty was short with a header back towards Stack who threw himself at the ball only to be adjudged to have brought down Ojamaa, an act which left Higdon with the task to slam home from the penalty spot.
The game had opened up into an end-to-end affair with both sides convinced there was another goal in it for them and it almost came for Hibs as they swept from their own penalty area to that of Motherwell, the culmination of which was Osbourne’s pass out to the unmarked Griffiths who was left holding his head in disbelief as his shot crashed off the legs of Randolph.
Hibs, though, were being forced into some desperate defending with livewire Ojamaa not giving their back four a moment’s rest and it was the speed of Daley, which had been a constant threat which brought Well’s second goal, the winger firing over a low ball which left Murphy with the easy task of sliding it home from a yard out.
But Doherty appeared to have made amends for his earlier error to haul Hibs level, the big defender firing in a shot which was deflected after Francomb’s corner found its way into his path, Fenlon revealing that at that point he was looking for his side to see the game out and to take the point they had in their grasp.
Motherwell, however, were back ahead just five minutes later, Ojamaa’s fiercely-struck shot appearing to go through the hands of Stack as it crashed back off the crossbar. The ball fell for Murphy who returned it into the danger area where Higdon executed an acrobatic overhead kick to claim his second of the game.
And his hat-trick wasn’t long in coming, Doherty bringing down Ojamaa for another Motherwell penalty, Higdon again doing the needful from the spot to leave Hibs shattered. Incredibly, the scoring wasn’t finished there, Sproule banging home a third for Hibs having seen his initial effort blocked by Randolph, bringing back memories of that epic 6-6 draw between these teams at Fir Park a couple of years ago.
However, as has been so often the case this season, it all proved too little for Hibs while McCall’s assertion that they deserved “immense credit” for their contribution will provide no comfort whatsoever.