Hibs 0, Morton 0: Two off and both managers dismissed in late mayhem

Morton's Kudus Oyenuga, far right, is sent off. Hibs defender Darren McGregor followed him
Morton's Kudus Oyenuga, far right, is sent off. Hibs defender Darren McGregor followed him
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Hibs defender Darren McGregor and Morton striker Kudus Oyenuga were sent off along with managers Neil Lennon and Jim Duffy as this top-of-the table clash ended in mayhem.

Ton substitute Oyenuga sent Jordon Forster crashing to the turf on the touchline in front of the dug-outs before McGregor went head-to-head with the striker, who went down, sparking a huge bust-up in which virtually every player became involved.

Referee Nick Walsh and his assistant Sean Carr battled to restore order as Lennon and Duffy appeared guilty of having a go at each other.

And, as the dust settled, both Oyenuga and McGregor were shown red cards while the managers were sent to the stand for their part in the clash.

Tension had been rising within Easter Road as the high stakes for which both teams were playing appeared to get the better of the players, Hibs knowing they could take a huge step towards the title with a victory while Morton were well aware they had to win if they were to remain in the hunt.

John McGinn crashed a shot off the post within the first minute but Hibs had to settle for a draw. They remain ten points clear at the top of the table and will have to be a little more patient before their return to the Premiership is finally confirmed.

The increasingly-healthy look to Lennon’s squad was highlighted by the fact the Hibs boss was able to give Paul Hanlon his first start since early January, the defender having finally got over the pelvic problem which had required an operation.

Dylan McGeouch, who had played his first full 90 minutes in the win over Falkirk at the weekend, dropped to the bench as did Forster and goalkeeper Ross Laidlaw as McGinn and Ofir Marciano returned from international duty with Scotland and Israel respectively. James Keatings, the last-gasp hero against the Bairns, kept his place. Andrew Shinnie was ruled out with the shoulder injury he’d sustained in that match.

Lennon had admitted another win on the back of that crucial victory over Falkirk would more or less wrap up the Championship title and his players looked intent on doing so as quickly as possible, Martin Boyle finding McGinn, who cracked a vicious shot off Morton goalkeeper Derek Gaston’s right-hand post with only 41 seconds on the clock.

However, Morton, with game on hand on Hibs and the Capital club still to visit Greenock, knew that after the disappointment of losing their year-long unbeaten record at Cappielow last weelend, this was a match from which they had to take three points if they were to have any hope of causing an upset in the Championship title race.

And, after that early escape, they forced a clutch of corners to remind Lennon’s players – as they had been warned by their manager – that they hadn’t turned up at Easter Road simply to make up the numbers.

But it was Hibs who again went closest to getting that all-important first goal, McGregor, again captain in the ongoing absence of David Gray, powering in a downward header from Keatings’ corner only to see Gaston get down well to get a strong hand to the ball, the goalkeeper having done well only a couple of minutes earlier to block Jason Cummings’ effort as he got on the end of a clever pass from McGinn.

A Thomas O’Ware header flashed over Marciano’s bar as Duffy’s side continued to show a great deal of enterprise as they played a lot of fast, one-touch football, Ross Forbes then trying his luck with a long-range effort which went well wide of target.

Lennon, no doubt, would have emphasised over the half-time break the need for Hibs to show a bit more care of the ball when in possession, the home side having been guilty of needlessly giving the ball away on more than one occasion during the opening 45 minutes.

There again, Duffy would also have been frustrated at seeing a number of promising attacks falter through the lack of a final precise pass.

Between them the two sides had managed just one shot apiece on target in that opening period, O’Ware ensuring that statistic wouldn’t change as he thrust out a foot to divert Boyle’s low cross just as Keatings arrived to supply the final touch.

And Ricki Lamie did likewise for Morton after Boyle’s blistering pace had again taken him past Mark Russell despite the left -back’s scything tackle on him.

Boyle’s pace was a potent weapon for Hibs but unfortunately none of his team-mates could match him as Keatings’ crossfield pass sent him on his way again, the winger running out of options as he waited for assistance to arrive in the Morton penalty area.

A Lamie foul on McGinn on the edge of the box offered Cummings the sort of opportunity he had taken at Cappielow to claim a stunning equaliser back in December, but on this occasion he sent his free-kick sailing over the bar.

The game had been played at a ferocious tempo and, as the hour mark approached, there was no sign of it slackening with neither side looking content to settle for a point.

Gaston could count himself very lucky not to have seen red when he raced from his line as Boyle chased McGinn’s free-kick, the Morton goalkeeper clearly outside his area as he gathered the ball, a fact missed by both referee Walsh and his far side assistant Paul O’Neill.

Lennon replaced Holt with former Morton striker Brian Graham midway through the second half in a bid to get the goal that, with every passing minute, was likely to prove to be the match-winner.

And it almost came 15 minutes from time when Lewis Stevenson’s cross from the left found the head of Graham who, unfortunately for Hibs, send it a foot wide of the target as the tension mounted around Easter Road.

After the promise of that early McGinn strike it had become a nervous affair for both sets of players, aware of the stakes they were playing for and well aware that one slip could prove fatal.

As the minutes ticked down, McGinn was left holding his head in despair as Cummings got on the end of his through ball only to tamely knock the ball into the arms of Gaston.

And then came that explosive end to the game as tempers flared, leaving Hibs without McGregor for Saturday’s visit to Dunfermline when, again, they’ll seek to take another stride towards automatic promotion.

Hibs (4-4-2): Marciano; Ambrose, McGregor, Hanlon (Forster 87), Stevenson; Boyle; Bartley, McGinn, Keatings; Holt (Graham 66), Cummings (McGeouch 86). Unused subs: Laidlaw, McLean, Fyvie, Martin.

Morton (4-4-1-1): Gaston; Doyle, Lamie, O’Ware, Russell; Forbes (Oyenuga 84), Lindsay, Murdoch; Tidser; Nesbitt; Oliver (Shankland 88). Unused subs: Donnelly, McGowan, Scullion, Strapp, Tiffoney.

Referee: N Walsh

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