HIBS passed up the chance to go out on their own at top of the SPL table after surrendering a two goal lead against Inverness Caley.
Scorers: Hibernian - Doyle (23), Wotherspoon (31); Inverness CT - Pepper (39), Foran (81)
Bookings: Hibernian - Williams, McPake, Cairney; Inverness CT - Pepper
Eoin Doyle and David Wotherspoon within the opening 31 minutes appeared to have put the Capital outfit well on the way to victory but Caley hauled themselves back into the game with a controversial strike from Connor Pepper and just nine minutes from time Richie Foran grabbed a stunning equaliser for Terry Butcher’s side, thumping the ball home after Hibs goalkeeper Ben Williams had pulled off a breathtaking save from Gary Warren.
Nonetheless, this draw represented a sixth game in succession without defeat for Pat Fenlon’s side.
Top scorer Leigh Griffiths failed a late fitness test on the ankle knock which forced him from the field as his brace of goals gained Hibs victory over Kilmarnock last week, paving the way for 18-year-old striker Ross Caldwell to start his first SPL match as Finnish veteran Shefki Kuqi had to settle for a seat on the bench.
Hibs almost took the lead in bizarre fashion after only eight minutes, good play between Wotherspoon, Doyle and Caldwell allowing the midfielder to wrong-foot Andre Blackman before sending a low shot skimming across the turf towards the back post. Josh Meekings had the opportunity to clear but inexplicably lifted his foot and was no doubt mightily relieved to see the ball scrape past the target.
Four minutes later Wotherspoon’ terrific pass inside full back David Raven found Doyle who wasted no time in playing the ball across goal for Caldwell coming in from the opposite flank. But the youngster could do no better than rifle a shot into the sidenetting.
The home support were enjoying what they were seeing as Pat Fenlon’s side dominated the early proceedings but they were almost caught when Blackman’s ball over the top found the Hibs defence waiting for an offside flag which never came as Aaron Doran sped into the penalty box. Wotherspoon hadn’t given up the chase, however, and he did enough to prevent the Caley man getting a shot away.
Doran went even closer as he shot forced Ben Williams to stretch full length to his right to save. Seconds later, though, Hibs were ahead Doyle making a powerful run in the inside left channel only to see his shot blocked as he was engulfed by two defenders and goalkeeper Ryan Esson but the Irishman’s reflexes were razor sharp as he prodded home the rebound fo rhis second goal of the season.
It was no more than Hibs deserved and Paul Cairney went close to doubling their lead in the 29th minute, his powerfully struck shot beating Esson only to come crashing back off the goalkeeper’s left hand post.
A second wesn’t long in coming, however, and what a spectacular effort it was from Wotherspoon. Taking Caldwell’s lay-off some 30 yards out he sent a fantastic dipping and curling shot beyond the bemused Esson and into the top corner of the net.
Williams. though, was called into action again, getting down well to his right once more to gather Richie Foran’s deflected shot to preserve Hibs two goal lead.
Caley, however, hauled themselves back into the match in contentious circumstances six minutes from the interval. Alan Maybury was adamant he’d been fouled by Pepper as they chased a through ball, the Hibs defender ending up on the turf. But referee Euan Norris saw nothing wrong, leaving the youngster to deliver a shot which clipped the inside of Williams’ right hand post before spinning into the net.
Pepper’s goal had breathed new life into Caley and it took an outstanding save from Williams on the stroke of half-time to keep Hibs ahead. Warren looked certain to score as he rose to meet Doran’s cross only a few yards out but he was left shaking his head in disbelief as the goalkeeper somehow clawed the ball to safety.
The interval had probably come at the right time for Hibs, those 15 minutes allowing them to regain their composure and within three minutes of the restart they almost stretched their lead, Caldwell lofting the ball over from Tim Clancy’s low cross.
Nevertheless, the game remained on a knife-edge, Caley knowing they were still very much in with a chance of getting something from a match which had looked well out of reach while another goal from Hibs would surely ensure all three points would remain at Easter Road.
Doyle was disappointed with a scuffed effort and while Jorge Claros did better his shot was easily taken by Esson while at the other end Paul Hanlon was at full stretch to take the ball off the toes of Doran as Caley threatened to get that equaliser.
Hibs skipper James McPake thought he’d sealed things 13 minutes from time as he gathered Doyle’s knockdown from Wotherspoon’s free-kick before swivelling and firing in a close-range effort which Esson brilliantly turned over his bar,
But Caley stunned the home crowd in the 81st minute, Williams pulling off a tremendous save from Warren only to see Foran hammer home the rebound.
Hibs: Williams, Clancy, McPake, Hanlon, Maybury, Wotherspoon, Claros, Deegan, Cairney (Sproule 87), Caldwell, Doyle. Subs not used: Antell, McGivern, Stevenson, Handling, Stanton, Kuqi.
Inverness Caley: Esson, Raven, G Shinnie, Warren, Draper, Foran. A Shinnie (McKay 70), Meekings, Doran, Pepper (Roberts 71), Blackman Morrison 59). Subs not used: Reguero, Oswell, Brislen-Hall, Cooper.
Referee: Euan Norris.