WHAT came after the opening exchanges at Easter Road proved to be ultimately irrelevant after Hibs stormed into a two-goal lead within the first five minutes.
Hibs 2, Inverness 0
February 23, 2008
The return of fit-again top goalscorer Steven Fletcher in the three matches before this match, coupled with new manager Mixu Paatelainen at the helm, had rejuvenated a Hibs side who went into the encounter with two draws and two victories in recent matches. The club’s top goalscorer was sorely missed during his spell out injured after forming a fruitful strike partnership with January signing Colin Nish in the games they had played alongside each other prior to this outing, mustering five goals between them. By the time five minutes had elapsed they had added a further two to that tally.
In the second minute, Merouane Zemmama played a ball forward from midfield and while Grant Munro tried to step up and catch Nish offside, his central defensive partner Phil McGuire was not in sync and, with the flag staying down, the big striker buried his chance effortlessly beyond Michael Fraser in the visitors’ goal.
Three minutes later and Nish was one of the architects as the Capital side extended their lead. This time he played a quick one-two with Zemmama and with Guillaume Beuzelin and Fletcher darting into the area, he picked out the Frenchman, who selflessly fed it to Fletcher and he opened up his body and stroked the ball into the net.
At that stage no bookie in the land would have taken a bet backing Hibs to score several more. It seemed a certainty. The pace and movement at that stage was troubling Inverness in the midfield and defensive areas. They persisted with the tactic of trying to tame the forward duo with the help of the offside rule but, on previous evidence, there was always the danger of another break.
It may have proved more costly had Hibs managed to maintain their opening energy and dominance but by the time the first 20 minutes had passed Hibs had switched off. For Caley, only Marius Niculae seemed confident of having a pop in those early stages. His long-distance effort in the tenth minute soared over but it served as a warning of intent and when he tried it again nine minutes later, goalkeeper Yves Ma-Kalambay had to produce the save. It was a similar scenario in the 23rd minute as Craig Brewster’s side showed signs of finding their way back into the contest.
The game should have been over and done with by half-time with Dean Shiels squandering two excellent chances, one-on one-with Fraser but hitting it straight at him on one occasion and failing to connect properly next time. Under siege for long periods throughout the second half, a Hibs side who had looked so comfortable were suddenly nervy and simply hanging on.
As Inverness camped out in their half, the absence of a goal was down to some good saves from Ma-Kalambay and the sheer number of Hibs bodies back in the box. Swamping the area, they made it tough for Inverness to find a way through and when they did the goalkeeper was on his best form.
Brewster was a frustrated man afterwards, claiming his side had created enough chances to win two games but having given the home side a two goal start, they know they only had themselves to blame.