St Johnstone 0 - 1 Hibs; May 12, 2002
End-of-season matches are always curious affairs, a day when fans’ minds tend to wander from what’s taking place to what might have been over the preceding months.
Undoubtedly the fans of both Hibs and St Johnstone had much to reflect upon as the last minutes of what proved to be a bitterly disappointing season were played out here.
Hibs, though, finished this match with five players aged 20 or under, the latest newcomer being Steven Whittaker of whom there are high hopes, the 17-year-old being denied the chance to claim his first SPL goal by a cynical trip by former Easter Road star Paul Hartley, who was in no doubt the youngster had shrewdly read his pass to intercept before setting off for goal.
For relegated St Johnstone, Kevin Cuthbert stood out. In between the sticks for his seventh consecutive game, his confidence had grown considerably. Twice in the opening half he prevented the visitors from leading, with fine saves from Freddie Daquin and Derek Townsley.
There were no goals from 19-year-old Garry O’Connor, who had failed to score in only one game under Williamson, on this occasion, but he was instrumental in setting up Derek Townsley for the only goal of the game, the lanky midfielder claiming his third strike in as many matches.
After the restart, the hosts produced considerably more fight, desperate, it seemed, to leave the SPL with a goal, points, anything positive at all. They had their chances. Paddy Connolly was denied by an outstanding tackle from Gary Smith as he was about to level.
O’Connor, though, passed up a glorious chance to round off the season by taking his goals tally into double figures, knocking the ball past Saints Cuthbert in injury time only to blast the ball wide when he had the chance to simply walk the ball into the net.
It was one of a number of opportunities - the other most notable opening being a superb piece of advantage from rookie SPL ref Craig Thomson leaving Daquin to knock the ball into Cuthbert’s body when he should have scored - which left Williamson claiming Hibs had deservedly “edged” the game.
Saints boss Billy Stark, though, begged to differ, claiming his team shouldn’t have been beaten – and he had a point with Tony Caig pulling off a brilliant double save from substitute Keigan Parker while Alen Orman popped up to take Marc McCulloch’s net-bound header off his own line.
That McCulloch got a header on target was, Williamson pointed out, due to a bit of slackness from O’Connor, impressing the need for all his players to pay attention to detail.
It was a momentary lapse but it was also an indication of the level of concentration which Williamson, who has a reputation for turning out well-organised teams, demands.
Hibs: Caig, Orman, Smith, Dempsie, Fenwick, Wiss, Jack, Townsley, Daquin, Brewster, O’Connor.