QOS 1, Hibs 0: Third defeat in a row for Stubbs’ side

Hibs striker Anthony Stokes goes on the attack for Hibs

Hibs striker Anthony Stokes goes on the attack for Hibs

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On-loan Rangers kid Andy Murdoch hammered home the goal that ended Hibs’ Championship dream and helped send the Ibrox club 14 points clear at the top of the table.

Successive defeats by Morton and Dumbarton had, as Hibs boss Alan Stubbs had admitted, made winning the title all but impossible, but Murdoch’s strike 12 minutes from time merely confirmed what we all knew – it’s all over.

Almost a year ago, Queen of the South made it three defeats in a row for Hibs and they repeated that feat against a Capital side which in the past week or so has looked a pale shadow of the side which had previously lost just once in 28 matches.

Now Easter Road fans will be rightly worried, Falkirk only a point behind as they threaten to snatch second place as Hibs falter at just the wrong time.

And they’ll have little confidence things will turn round in this weekend’s Scottish Cup quarter-final against Inverness Caley and the following Sunday’s trip to Hampden for the League Cup final with Ross County.

Stubbs made four changes as he sought the win which would keep Hibs’ slim title hopes alive a little longer, skipper David Gray and Anthony Stokes returning having recovered from the illnesses which had forced them to miss Saturday’s defeat at Dumbarton.

Liam Fontaine was back in the centre of defence with Paul Hanlon having picked up a knee injury in that match, one serious enough not only to rule him out of this match but those two huge cup games.

Martin Boyle was also in the starting line-up as Niklas Gunnarsson, James Keatings and Dan Carmichael all dropped to the bench.

The Dumfries side were clearly intent on testing the confidence of Stubbs’ players following those back-to-back defeats by Morton and Dumbarton, Andy Dowie powering in on Jake Pickard’s cross only to find his path to goal blocked by a superb challenge from Marvin Bartley.

There was certainly a bit of an edge to the game, Bartley squaring up to Pickard after the Queens striker had downed John McGinn, those actions earning each of them an early yellow card, Liam Henderson following them into referee Andrew Dallas’ book, his punishment for a theatrical fall to the deck.

A crude challenge on Boyle presented McGinn with an opportunity 20 yards out and, while his shot was close, it was not close enough, slipping over the bar of Queens goalkeeper Robbie Thomson, who wasn’t bothered in the slightest by a weak effort from Stokes – again looking a somewhat peripheral figure – which was never going to beat him at his near post.

There was plenty of effort on display but precious little in the way of finesse, the Palmerston Park outfit dropping off when not in possession to pose Hibs the problem they’ve so often confronted this season, how to engineer a way through a well-organised defensive unit.

But Queens were also dangerous on the break, looking to tease Hibs into committing too many bodies forward and so create the openings they hoped they could exploit.

The upshot was that both sides were cancelling each other out, neither Mark Oxley or Thomson finding themselves overworked although the Queens No.1 kept his team level at the interval, getting down to get a strong right hand to McGinn’s low shot after the Hibs midfielder had taken Henderson’s pass and cut inside his marker. The ball rebounded into the path of Stokes, who tried to steer it into the far corner through a forest of legs but his effort crept a foot wide.

Having lost six goals in their previous two games, Hibs would have been a bit happier not to have conceded in those opening 45 minutes but, nevertheless, a trifle concerned at the lack of clear openings they had created in that time,

It was looking increasingly like one of those games which would be decided – if at all – by a mistake rather than a piece of magic and that was almost the case as Dowie slipped in attempting to intercept McGinn’s through ball with Jason Cummings running in behind but, despite being on his knees, the Queens defender managed to nod clear.

There had been little evidence of Hibs’ free-flowing game, balls knocked into channels for runners rather than into feet, making it easy for the home defence to keep the Capital club at bay as did the fact Cummings and Stokes were playing too far apart to form any sort of effective partnership.

Referee Dallas certainly wasn’t endearing himself to the Dumfries fans with a string of questionable decisions, at odds more than once with his farside assistant Liam Butler in what was the right decision to make.

Stokes may have been on the fringes but he demonstrated just why he cannot be ignored as he took Henderson’s pass and drove a low shot beyond Thomson only to find Higgins on the line to clear.

Hibs had begun to pick up the pace, a surging run down the left from Bartley resulting in a waist-high cross which caused all sorts of problems for Queens, the ball just failing to fall for Cummings.

However, there was little of the poise and ability to hold the ball with back to goal as the departed Dominique Malonga so often did, Stokes and Cummings both preferring to run at defences.

It would come as little surprise to the travelling fans to see Cummings replaced with Keatings with 20 minutes to go although they might have expected to have seen Farid El Alagui, with his greater physical presence introduced.

Queen of the South, of course, still have their eyes on a play-off place and, having found themselves on the back foot, started to push forward themselves, Gray forced into a superb interception as Dale Hilson tried to cash in on fellow substitute Mark Millar’s cross.

Almost exactly a year ago, Queen of the South completed a miserable run of three straight defeats for Hibs and history repeated itself as Murdoch latched onto Hilson’s lay-off and crashed a terrific shot beyond Oxley.

Queen of the South: Thomson, Kidd, Dowie, Brownlie, Higgins, Conroy (Millar 66), Russell (Hillson 77), Tapping (Murdoch 52), Hutton, Pickard, Marshall. Unused subs: Jacobs, Atkinson, Smith, Oliver.

Hibs: Oxley; Gray, McGregor, Fontaine, Stevenson, Bartley, Boyle, McGinn, Henderson, Stokes (Dagnall 82), Cummings (Keatings 71). Unused subs: Virtanen, Gunnarsson, Thomson, Carmichael, El Alagui.

Referee: A Dallas

Crowd: 2017