Hibs’ biggest win of the season would suggest their best performance. Yet, according to boss Alan Stubbs, their display in demolishing Livingston had already been matched in several previous matches.
The difference this time was the Easter Road outfit carried a real cutting edge, scoring goals rather than threatening to do so as they made it five matches without defeat, this victory taking them into the Championship play-off places.
Four goals without reply was enough to send the travelling fans home happy. It could easily have been more although Lions manager John McGlynn felt the final scoreline even as it stood was a tad harsh on his players who today find themselves propping up the table, having failed to score in their last four league games.
Having insisted steady progress after a summer of turmoil was being made, Stubbs revealed he now hopes attention can be concentrated on football rather than the outside distractions which have engulfed the Capital club, the head coach saying: “To go five unbeaten against anyone is good form. I just hope people judge us on football and results rather than anything else that’s going on. It would be nice to read about five games unbeaten, I think that’s been missed in a lot of reports recently.”
With the gloss taken off those notable victories away to Ross County and Rangers with draws at home to Raith Rovers and then Dumbarton, the convincing nature of this win – the first time Hibs have scored four since knocking five past Stranraer some 13 months ago – will do much to persuade many that, as Stubbs has asserted, small steps forward are being taken as his side gels and understands his approach to the game. “From the first whistle to the last I thought we had a real cutting edge,” declared Stubbs. “I thought we went forward with a real purpose.”
That much was evident from the third minute when Lewis Stevenson’s defence-splitting pass left Dominique Malonga with only Darren Jamieson to beat, the French-born striker failing to do so as he fired a low shot off the goalkeeper.
Malonga, however, made amends, latching onto the ball after Jamieson – who had been beaten by a clearance from his opposite number Mark Oxley when these two sides met at Easter Road in the first game of the season – failed to hold a David Gray cross under pressure from Danny Handling and lashing it high into the net.
Scott Allan, who was the driving force in the middle of the park, almost made it two on the stroke of half-time, his shimmy creating space for a vicious drive which crashed back off the post.
Hibs were reminded of the precarious nature of a single goal lead when Kyle Jacobs rose to meet Gary Glen’s corner, Oxley throwing out a strong right hand to half-stop his downward header before Gray booted the ball to safety.
It was a warning they didn’t ignore, Jason Cummings’ perfectly timed ball leaving Handling to drill a low shot into the corner of the net before Craig Sives was tempted into an ill-judged tackle on Cummings as he danced through the home defence, referee Greg Aitken having no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
The decision sparked a melee of Hibs players trying to claim the spot-kick before Dylan McGeouch emerged to slot home his first goal for the club, Malonga, who had seen his penalty against Dumbarton the previous week ruled out, cutting a disconsolate figure as his team-mates celebrated.
And he threw the toys out the pram when a couple of minutes later he was substituted, the hitman whipping off his jersey and planking himself down beside the away dug-out, an action which drew a prompt rebuke from Stubbs.
Revealing he’d taken Malonga and Handling off at that point as his thoughts turned towards Sunday’s derby with Hearts, Stubbs admitted he was puzzled as to why both Malonga and Cummings had sought to take the kick with McGeouch having been handed that responsibility before the game.
He said: “We knew who’d be taking any penalty but it was typical of strikers trying to grab hold of the ball. Jason made it and wanted to take it but I’ve had a quiet word with both of them. I’ve spoken to Dominique and I can guarantee he won’t be doing that again and that’s an end to the matter.
“I am glad he was disappointed, to be honest. I do not know a player who comes off who is happy. But the team is the most important thing. It’s not about ‘I’, I have said that to them. Take the individual plaudits by all means, but the most important thing always has to be the team.”
Cummings might have added a fourth as he met Stevenson’s cross, Jamieson managing to block his downward header but, having replaced the 19-year-old, Paul Heffernan did so, the veteran striker sliding into meet another low ball from the left back, joining Handling and McGeouch on the list of players claiming their first goals of the season, a fact which gave Stubbs another reason for satisfaction. “I don’t want all the pressure on the strikers to score goals week in, week out,” he added. “The clean sheet, too, was important because that can give the lads in front the confidence to try things and do something different.
“We scored the first goal and that obviously puts a lot of pressure on the opposition to try to do something and I felt we found and were very intelligent at times with the ball. But I think we have played as well as that in other games, it’s just that we haven’t put teams away when we’ve had the chances.
“Compared to last week [against Dumbarton] I think we got into better positions to score. Last week we had a lot of chances but a lot of them came from the wide areas so through the week we worked on mixing things up, going through the middle, down the sides and over the top.”