Easter Road provided few home comforts for Hibs last season, a mere four in the Premiership a clear factor in the Capital club’s ignominious fall from grace.
That figure has already been almost matched this time round but, as Alan Stubbs conceded, further improvement is needed with this win over Alloa Athletic their first in the league for exactly three months.
True, home form hasn’t been too shabby with just the one defeat but, as Stubbs admitted, too many matches have been drawn – a statistic which has undoubtedly hindered his side’s bid to mount a title challenge, with promotion hopes increasingly looking to rest on the play-offs.
The difficulty Hibs have had time and again has been finding a way through a team which pitches up in Edinburgh and “parks the bus”, intent on departing with a point or, if lucky enough to hit on the break, with all three.
So it would come as no surprise to see Alloa adopt a 4-5-1 formation, a system which Stubbs insisted proves difficult to overcome no matter what level of football you may be playing in, the key to unlocking such a defensive set-up being patience.
And that of the Hibs support was sorely tested as they watched Stubbs’ players dictate from first whistle to last, as the match statistics underlined – 59 per cent possession, ten shots to Alloa’s one, and an astonishing 17 corners.
Turning such domination into goals has troubled Hibs when confronted with such defiance, Stubbs’ side going into this match having scored just seven in the Championship at home, an average of only one a game.
For the first 25 minutes it looked as if this was going to be more of the same, Alloa well organised and disciplined and behind those ten outfield players a goalkeeper in Craig McDowall who prevented an early goal by racing from his line to block at the feet of Dominique Malonga.
Hibs, though, continued to control possession, knocking the ball about as they attempted to tease opponents out of possession, with full-backs David Gray and Lewis Stevenson hugging the touchlines like wingers to utilise every inch of the pitch – their patience finally rewarded as they worked an opening for Jason Cummings to fire in a powerful low shot. McDowall could only parry the ball straight into the path of Danny Handling, who slid home his third goal of the season.
Handling said: “We knew we had to be patient. Alloa’s 4-5-1 made it hard for us. But we knew if we scored they’d have to open up a bit and try to score themselves.”
Barry Smith’s side, however, stuck to plan A, knowing that at one goal down there remained the chance of a goal on the counter – a forlorn hope as they could muster only one shot on target in the entire 90 minutes.
In fact, they could easily have been three down before the interval, McDowall standing tall to prevent Scott Robertson scoring and then looking on gratefully as another cavalier move from Hibs ended with Scott Allan sweeping Gray’s pass wide as he attempted to guide the ball into the far corner of the net.
McDowall was forced to claw an Allan corner out from under his bar, Paul Hanlon couldn’t get enough on Malonga’s downward header and Cummings shot wide after a misplaced pass from Ben Gordon put him in on goal. The frustration of the home fans became ever more audible, the supporters well aware how fragile a single goal lead has proved but their nerves eased as Malonga claimed his tenth goal of the season, something of a freak but nevertheless highly welcome, the Congolese hitman thrusting out a foot as Robertson’s shot was deflected to send the ball looping over McDowall.
“I thought it was unbelievable,” grinned head coach Stubbs. “I do not know how he did it. It’s come to him very quickly and he has tried to react. I don’t know how he got the power to make the ball go forward with that momentum. He has caught everyone by surprise.
“But when you are a good striker you are in the right position and you react. It was a freak goal but I’m not complaining – we haven’t had too many of them go our way this season.”
Having seen Falkirk end an eight-match unbeaten run seven days earlier as his players turned in a below par performance, Stubbs had challenged them to use this game to begin building another similar record and to that end he was naturally happy to see them do so.
He said: “From the first whistle to the end I thought we controlled the game.
“It was always going to be about trying to make the game as comfortable as possible when we created opportunities to score.
“It’s always difficult to break down a 4-5-1, but I thought we were patient and when we got the opportunities we took two of them and that’s the most important thing.
“I didn’t feel we were ever under any pressure, although we conceded a couple of needless free-kicks that can invite unnecessary pressure. Apart from that, we looked in control for the full 90 minutes.
“We’d been criticised earlier in the season for not winning games we’d controlled but we controlled this one and won it so, I’m very happy.”
Now Stubbs is hoping this home win will spark more of the same, saying: “Our away form has been very good but we have drawn too many games at home.
“We haven’t played too badly at home, we’ve just not got the results we should have but hopefully this can be a catalyst to address our home form.
“But I would be more worried if we were not playing well and drawing games but I feel we’ve controlled a lot of our home games but not seen them across the line.
“We knew this game was going to be difficult but the most important thing is that on any given day if you are not at the standard you try to set you can get results like last week, like when Alloa beat Rangers.
“If you do not perform at the level you expect from your team then you run the risk of that happening.”