Chance missed – again. For the fourth successive match at home Hibs were forced to settle for a draw in a game they could quite easily have emerged from with maximum points.
Raith Rovers, Dumbarton and even Championship leaders Hearts had previously exited Easter Road happy with a point and this time round Queen of the South boss James Fowler was equally pleased to be heading back to Dumfries with something to show for his side’s efforts.
The Palmerston Park outfit were the last team to have beaten Hibs in the league some two months ago, results having improved markedly for Alan Stubbs’ players in the intervening period. But while trips to Ibrox and Livingston brought wins, it is at home in Edinburgh where their bid to reel in both their Capital rivals and Rangers has somewhat faltered.
Yes, the record on home turf looks much better than in the previous couple of seasons, just that one loss to Falkirk as yet, but those four draws have definitely taken a bit of the shine off that fact.
Stubbs is undoubtedly right when he says league position doesn’t matter at this particular point in time, where a team may be in the final couple of months of the season more telling than now. But current results will have a bearing on where Hibs do finally finish and there can be no question that the eight “dropped” in recent weeks would have made a marked difference to where they stand today.
Instead, what has been looking a forlorn hope of being part of the race for the title and that one automatic promotion spot is an even more distant dream, Hearts extending their lead over their Capital neighbours to 16 points while this latest draw deprived Hibs of not only hauling themselves level with Queens but narrowing the gap to Rangers, themselves surprisingly held at home by Alloa.
Hibs were, of course, much depleted, Scott Robertson added to an ever-growing casualty list which also saw Farid El Alagui, Jordon Forster, Dylan McGeouch and Mark Oxley sitting in the stand, while joint-top scorer Dominique Malonga suffered a tough introduction to international football as Congo’s hopes of qualifying for the finals of the African Cup of Nations were dented by defeat at home to Nigeria.
Stubbs had insisted he wouldn’t be using absentees as an excuse – nor did he – but there’s little doubt they were sorely missed in a match which Hibs dominated from first minute to last, Oxley’s 19-year-old deputy Kleton Perntreou enjoying a much quieter first start than he might have imagined.
Doonhamers boss Fowler insisted his team hadn’t pitched up determined to just defend, but over the 90 minutes Hibs had twice as many shots at goal, three times as many corners – their only problem finding that finishing touch.
Three times in the first half Queens goalkeeper Zander Clark was unable to hold shots, two from Jason Cummings and another from Scott Allan, but on each occasion there was no-one close enough to take advantage.
Other than that, there were few, if any, clear cut chances for Stubbs’ side who no doubt sensed the growing frustration of their fans as time and again the final ball into the penalty area proved poor or, as in the case of promising passes from Danny Handling and then Scott Allan, just failing to connect with a team-mate.
That was until just eight minutes from the end when another enterprising run down the right flank from David Gray saw his pass pick out substitute Paul Heffernan standing all alone and only yards from goal.
The home support would probably have wished for the ball to fall for no-one else, but the veteran striker somehow spooned it over the bar – a sign, perhaps, of him being a touch ring rusty having found himself very much a bit-part player in recent weeks, his last start coming more than two months ago.
Fowler, a former team-mate of the much-travelled hitman at Kilmarnock, breathed a sigh of relief, saying: “Heff usually tucks them away, so we maybe got fortunate with that one,” the Hibs man agreed he should at least have hit target.
Other than that, though, full-back David Gray admitted he and his team-mates hadn’t done enough to win the match. He said: “We’re disappointed with the result but more disappointed that we did not really create enough to win the game.
“We had a couple of chances here and there but the actual quality in the final third and penetration was not really there. But credit to the lads, I thought we worked really hard, dominated the game but it was one of those days when we never really looked like scoring.
“We knew going into the game that if we won we’d go level with them, that was the objective, so we are disappointed not to have done that. The way the game went I don’t think we can have any argument. We controlled it, we were never going to lose it, but I don’t think we did enough to put them under pressure.
“In other matches we’d created enough chances to win four or five games without putting them away, but we felt we had turned the corner by taking our chances so to not score this time was disappointing.”
Gray insisted, however, that while Hibs’ momentum might have been checked, this was in no way a step back with the belief firmly in the dressingroom that he and his team-mates have got to grips with Championship football.
“We are expected to win at home, we know that,” he said, “But at the same time we have not lost the game, we never looked like losing it and that’s a positive, we’ve now gone a number of games in the league unbeaten.
“We’ve got a real grip of things, but we just need to make sure we start turning these draws into wins.”
Hibs now face three successive away matches, starting with Saturday’s trip to Dumbarton, but Gray believes that with the onus on the home sides to perhaps attack a little more than they have done at Easter Road it might just suit Stubbs’ players.
He added: “Easter Road is a great place to come and play football. Our fans have been excellent, it’s a great surface and there’s no real excuses for us not to be winning at home.
“Going away means teams might be a bit more open than us having to break them down and that might play into our hands.”