St Johnstone 0, Hibs 1: November 28, 2012
A MATCH which began in the tamest of fashions ended in a flurry of activity as Hibs went into second place thanks to a late goal from Paul Cairney. For long enough the game had threatened to end without a goal and almost without incident. But, in a frenzied closing ten minutes, St Johnstone had a penalty saved, lost a goal, had their manager sent to the stand, one player carried off and another sent off.
Hibs arguably merited no more than a point on the balance of play but they had a decided edge when it came to keeping their composure.
With James McPake out for Hibs, Ryan McGivern partnered Paul Hanlon at centre-half, Lewis Stevenson slotted in at left-back with Alan Maybury on the right. It was a defence which had looked increasingly unsure of itself in games before this one, but in the first half-hour St Johnstone did next to nothing to put any pressure on it. Two or three hopeful balls over the top for Gregory Tade to run on to were as creative as it came from the home team during that spell, and only once, when he used his height to get the better of Maybury, did the Frenchman look like causing any trouble.
With Eoin Doyle playing wide on the left and Paul Cairney more centrally, Hibs had the numerical advantage in midfield, but too often that meant Leigh Griffiths was isolated up front. The striker worked hard to get involved, but often he had to drop back into or at least close to his own half. With less than ten minutes of the first half to go, Tade at last managed to create space on the edge of the box only to be brought down by McGivern, who was booked for the offence. Dave Mackay’s free-kick was deflected over the bar for a corner, which came to nothing, but the attempt at least signalled the start of a spell of sustained St Johnstone pressure.
Minutes later Steven MacLean was almost through on Ben Williams, only to be denied by a timely block deep in the box from Maybury.
Rowan Vine was next to have a scoring attempt for the Saints in the second period, from a knockdown by Murray Davidson, but his shot was blocked. After a busy opening from the home team, Hibs came more into the game. A free-kick from the right by Griffiths skidded teasingly into the box, but no-one could get a touch to divert it out of its path straight to Alan Mannus in the St Johnstone goal.
Pat Fenlon then opted for a change, bringing young striker Ross Caldwell on for Doyle, and moving Cairney out to the left. It was a switch to 4-4-2, but a cautious one, with the substitute dropping back whenever Hibs lost possession.
First Nigel Hasselbaink and then David Robertson came off the bench as St Johnstone, too, tried to shake things up – and with ten minutes left the former had the perfect opportunity to make the difference when his team were awarded a penalty. David Wotherspoon conceded it, tripping Mackay just inside the area after having had a nibble on the same player a yard or so outside. Hasselbaink struck the penalty solidly, but Williams saved well – and was also back on his feet immediately to save another shot from Craig. The relief of that double save injected new life into Hibs, and within two minutes they were ahead.
Griffiths did the initial damage by threading a clever path into the pass of Cairney, and although the midfielder failed to strike his shot cleanly, he got enough on it to force it past Mannus, who got a hand to the ball but could not prevent it from squirming into the left corner of his goal.
By that time St Johnstone manager Steve Lomas had been sent to the stand.
Worse followed for the home team when David Robertson had to be stretchered off after a collision, and Dave Mackay was shown a red card for violent conduct towards Griffiths.
Hibs: Williams, McGivern, Hanlon, Maybury, Stevenson, Cairney, Wotherspoon, Claros, Taiwo, Griffiths, Doyle.