Practice makes perfect, according to the old saying, and it certainly held true as Jason Cummings curled home a stunning free-kick to salvage a vital point for title-chasing Hibs.
It was the 21-year-old’s ninth goal of the season but, incredibly, his first in three months, Cummings having found himself very much an onlooker after a dip in form, restricted to cameo appearances from the bench.
Despite having started the previous week, Cummings found himself back there as he made way for emergency loan signing Kris Commons, boss Neil Lennon’s decision a disappointment to him but one he fully accepted given the pedigree of the Celtic midfielder drafted in as a temporary measure to help counter the Easter Road club’s injury problems in the middle of the park.
However, it was Cummings and not Commons – a recognised expert when it comes to free-kicks around the opposition’s penalty area – Hibs turned to when, having found themselves trailing to Gary Oliver’s strike only two minutes earlier, the newcomer was fouled 25 yards out.
Cummings, who had replaced defender Liam Fontaine in the 76th minute, admitted he was surprised Commons didn’t claim the chance for himself but revealed how he’d put his time out of the team to good use.
He said: “I don’t usually take free-kicks but I’d been practising along with Martin Boyle so I fancied myself. The previous week I was really ill, I shouldn’t have played but I was feeling good, there was a spring in my step.
“I was disappointed not to be on from the start, everyone wants to start, but that’s up to the manager. I was surprised it was open for me with Kris on the pitch but he’s just in the door and maybe in the next few weeks he will. A goal has been a long time coming, I hadn’t scored in ages but I probably took it for granted when I was scoring all the time.”
Cummings believed he might have claimed a second match-winning goal in the dying seconds, Morton defender Thomas O’Ware blocking his shot leaving fellow substitute Grant Holt to cushion the rebound into the arms of Cappielow goalkeeper Derek Gaston.
He said: “It was an unbelievable block. It should have been three points for us but all credit to him.”
Cummings wasn’t the only Hibs player left cursing O’Ware, skipper David Gray and Holt having earlier seen him come up with equally impressive challenges to prevent them from scoring but, at the end of the day, a draw was the fairest result, the Capital club having made yet another slow start to a game.
Throughout the first half they struggled to match the energy of Jim Duffy’s side, unable to sustain any meaningful possession while their lack of composure was probably exemplified by striker Brian Graham’s snatch at the ball after a bit of confusion between Gaston and his central defenders had left the goalkeeper stranded.
The goal was gaping but Graham succeeded in screwing his shot horribly wide although it would have been a goal against the run of play, Oliver having steered a Jamie McDonagh cross over before McDonagh’s charge into Hibs penalty area was halted by Fontaine only for the ball to crash off the Morton player’s legs and loop over Ross Laidlaw’s crossbar.
Much of the attention, though, was on 33-year-old Commons, the former Scotland player having a somewhat quiet first half other than a trademark crossfield ball which Lewis Stevenson took on his chest as he cut in from the left before driving it across goal and past the far post.
But Commons became far more influential after the break, dropping a little deeper to get on the ball more and then spraying few searching passes forward as Hibs perked up massively.
Boss Lennon said: “We didn’t pass the ball as well as we can but I thought we had the better of the second half and were in the ascendancy when they scored.
“We had chances to win it but on our first-half display we have to do better than we have done in the last two or three games.”
Lennon admitted he’d toyed with the idea of starting Cummings and, with hindsight, wished he had, but added: “It was a great goal, a world-class finish. He looked a real threat when he came on, both he and Grant Holt made a difference.
“We’d got into the team at half-time and we got a good response. We can play better than that, no question. Defensively, we were good but in the final two-thirds we have to do a little bit better.”
Commons, understandably, looked a little ring rusty having not started a game since mid-March but both player and manager, who signed him for Celtic for £500,000 from Derby County, were confident there’s plenty more to come from him.
Lennon believed ‘the 90 minutes will do him the world of good’ while Commons revealed the first of his planned five games for Hibs was “a strange experience” given his long absence adding: “It was nice to play. It’s been a long time since I’ve worn shin pads.
“I’ve been doing extra work but everyone knows it’s about getting match sharpness. It was good to get 90 minutes under my belt.”
Commons acknowledged it was difficult to step straight into the side having only trained on Friday with his new team-mates before signing the 28-day loan agreement. He said: “The last time I’d been out so long was when I did my cruciate when I was 15 but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve known Neil for probably ten or 11 years and he knows what I am capable off as I’m working towards the latter stages of my career and, if I can help him, it would be great.”
Given Morton haven’t lost on their own ground since March and title rivals Dundee United and Falkirk have also dropped points at Cappielow, a draw could, perhaps, be considered a reasonable outcome but even so, on a day when United were held by Raith Rovers, Lennon and his players would no doubt regard it as an opportunity missed.
However, while Morton aren’t going to win the Championship they will, as manager Duffy insisted, have some bearing on the title race. The former Easter Road boss said: “We won’t do it over the season, but we matched Hibs, we gave everything.”