Back to stuffy league reality as Hibs held by Saints

Hibs fell short against a combative St Mirren, who were marshalled well by Jim Goodwin. Pic: Lisa Ferguson
Hibs fell short against a combative St Mirren, who were marshalled well by Jim Goodwin. Pic: Lisa Ferguson
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It’s becoming a depressingly familiar scenario, opposition teams pitch up at Easter Road, park the bus and hope to depart with a point or, hopefully, snatch an unlikely winner.

They are, of course, perfectly within their rights to do so, each manager must decide on the game plan which he believes will give his players their best chance of taking 
something from the match.

As such the onus is then on Alan Stubbs and his side to work out how to find a way through the massed numbers in front of them, to be patient and not allow themselves to become frustrated even if those 
watching give voice to their own anxieties.

Until this match it was a ploy which had seen Morton, Raith Rovers and Alloa Athletic all leave for home empty-handed, Hibs not only collecting full points from each game but also clocking up three clean sheets.

What set St Mirren apart from those other teams was that Ian Murray’s men got the first goal, the first time in six matches at Easter Road in which Mark 
Oxley has had to pick the ball out of his net, Calum Gallagher’s early strike giving the Buddies something to hold onto.

They managed to do that until three minutes before the interval, relinquishing their precious lead as David Gray rose at the back post to nod down Liam Henderson’s cross for the 
diving Martin Boyle to head 
beyond Saints goalkeeper Jamie Langfield.

Thereafter the Capital side dominated the game but failed to get the goal which would have lifted them into second place in the Championship 
table, instead dropping to fourth while conceding further ground to leaders Rangers.

They went close, Lewis Stevenson floating a precise shot from wide left over the head of the stranded Langfield only for the ball to crash off the crossbar before the goalkeeper made a point-blank save from substitute Dom Malonga’s header.

“As the home side, did Hibs do enough to win the game?” asked Murray afterwards, the former Easter Road player adding: “I don’t think they did. We have found ourselves in similar positions this season in terms of maybe not quite doing enough to win the game and you have to give credit to the away team.

“I felt we deserve a little bit of credit in the way we went about our game plan. It worked really well early doors, trying to leave our two quicker players up the park and we got a bit of joy out of it with the goal.

“We understood we had to give Hibs some sort of advantage in the middle of the park so we could hit them on the break. Not many teams come here and gave the guts to do that but we felt we had the players to go and hurt them.”

As Hibs turned the screw 
after the interval Murray was well served by his veterans, midfielder Jim Goodwin immense as he shielded his back four, frustrating the efforts of the younger legs of John McGinn, Dylan McGeouch and Henderson while former Hearts defender Andy Webster 
shackled Jason Cummings.

Murray said: “Jim was outstanding. He has that reputation, you hear it all the time, he’s a thug, a hooligan. But he is a seasoned professional and his experience is vital to us and it showed.”

Goodwin described the result as a “fantastic point” for St Mirren as they struggle to adapt to life in the second tier, adding: “Hibs are arguably the second best team in the league outside Rangers and deservedly so. Look at their midfield four, they have terrific players, they took our best player in the summer, young McGinn and having boys like him, Henderson and McGeouch we knew we would have to be at our best.”

Sadly Hibs weren’t at their best, the exertions of that epic League Cup victory over Premiership leaders Aberdeen three days earlier clearly taking it’s toll as Stubbs’ players looked sluggish and half a yard off the pace.

The head coach admitted he had feared such a reaction but refused to make it an excuse. He said: “There wasn’t enough zip in our play. I think the result during the week had taken a bit out of them both mentally and physically but I still think we had enough on the pitch to get the result.

“But them getting the first goal was a huge plus for them, it gave them something to hang on to. From our point of view it was just flat in general. Sometimes you get a hangover. I spoke to the players before the game but it was not to be.

“We’ve done well recently so we are disappointed. I am sure Ian Murray will be delighted with his point but we were looking to pick up three, not one.

“We had chances but never took them while we limited their openings, after the goal Mark Oxley didn’t have a save to make.”

Gallagher’s goal proved to be Saints only effort on target in a game in which Hibs enjoyed 64 per cent of possession but were unable to overwork Langfield who had just three saves to make.

Stubbs, however, was disappointed in some aspects of his side’s performance, saying: “I felt we were just a bit flat from the first whistle. The goal lets them camp in even more, that’s the way teams go when they come here but credit to them.

“We could have done better at their goal and got ourselves back into the game without really playing that well. We’d have thought we’d have gone on to win it but unfortunately we didn’t. I thought our 
decision making should have been better. In teams when you have that experience you pick the right passes more often than not.

“I thought our ball retention at times wasn’t as good as it should have been.

“We made some indifferent decisions on the ball and it probably disrupted our 
momentum too much.”