St Johnstone 2, Hibs 0: Hibees top six dream dies

Hibs keeper Sean Murdoch does well to prevent Steven MacLean bagging his second goal of the game. Pic: SNS

Hibs keeper Sean Murdoch does well to prevent Steven MacLean bagging his second goal of the game. Pic: SNS

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Hibs fading top six dream was finally extinguished as they slumped to another defeat which saw St Johnstone open up an unassailable seven point lead over the Easter Road outfit.

Terry Butcher had hoped his players could exert some pressure on the Perth club with a much-needed victory but after a promising opening from the Capital side, Saints took control.

Steven MacLean bundled home the opener and Ryan McGivern unwittingly turned a Michael O’Halloran cross into his own net although Hibs had stand-in goalkeeper Sean Murdoch to thank for keeping them in the game up until that point with terrific saves from David Wotherspoon and Stevie May.

Any hopes Hibs might have had of mounting a comeback were shattered, though, as Danny Haynes was sent off with 34 minutes remaining after a clash which left former Easter Road star Wotherspoon flat out on the McDiarmid Park turf.

As promised Butcher swung the axe in the wake of defeat by Partick Thistle, making six changes. Injuries to Paul Hanlon and Duncan Watmore forced his hand while goalkeeper Ben Williams missed out with his wife Gemma about to give birth to their second child.

His understudy Sean Murdoch stepped in for only his second game for Hibs while Paul Cairney, James Collins and Jason Cummings all dropped to the bench, making way for a first start for on-loan Arsenal defender Daniel Boateng who was joined in the starting line-up by Kevin Thomson, Paul Heffernan, Liam Craig and Haynes.

Frazer Wright returned for the Saints after an ankle injury and the defender almost gifted Hibs a ninth minute lead, nodding the ball back to his goalkeeper Alan Mannus who just managed to throw up his right hand to prevent it going over his head and into the net.

Again Hibs had made a decent start but once more it counted for nothing when the Perth side went ahead in the 16th minute. Murdoch pulled off a terrific save high to his left to prevent May’s header from Wotherspoon’s cross going in,

The resultant corner taken by Wotherspoon caused chaos inside Hibs six yard box, MacLean the first to react to the loose ball, bundling it into the net from close-range.

MacLean should have made it two for Saints 12 minutes later, May spotting Wotherspoon in space on the right and delivering an inch-perfect cross which the midfielder headed down across Murdoch’s goal only for the inrushing striker to blast it over the bar from only a couple of yards out.

At the other end Wright made up for his earlier error with a superb block to prevent Heffernan slotting away Haynes’ knockdown.

But it took a fantastic one-handed save from Murdoch to prevent Wotherspoon putting Saints two ahead four minutes from the interval, the goalkeeper throwing himself full-length to his left to push away the midfielder’s diving header from May’s cross.

And it was Murdoch who kept Hibs in the game seven minutes into the second half, using his feet to block May’s downward header after the Saints striker had found plenty of space to meet Gary Miller’s cross.

A second goal for Saints was, however, only delayed by a minute, O’Halloran getting to the bye-line before cutting the ball back to break off the legs of McGivern and into the net.

It went from bad to worse for Hibs when they were reduced to ten men, Haynes appearing to catch Wotherspoon with a petulant stamp after the two had clashed, the on-loan Notts County striker taking pelters from team-mate Thomson as he headed for the tunnel having left his side to play out more than half-an-hour a man short..

Saints were well worth their lead in what was a one-sided second half and only another impressive save from Murdoch prevented May adding to it, the goalkeeper superbly blocking the striker’s rising shot from just 12 yards out.

Wotherspoon was causing his old team all sorts of problems and Michael Nelson was glad to see the ball crash off Murdoch’s left hand post after his cutback had thumped off the Hibs defender.

St Johnstone: Mannus, Mackay, Wright, Anderson, G Miller, Wotherspoon (Croft 85), McDonald, MacLean, Dunne (C Millar 74), May, O’Halloran.

Substitutes not used: Banks, Cregg, Hasselbaink, Clancy, Iwelumo.

Hibs: Murdoch, Forster, Nelson, Boateng, McGivern, Thomson (Cairney 74), Stanton (Stevenson 82), Taiwo (Handling 67), Craig, Haynes, Heffernan.

Substitutes not used: Grant, Collins, Maybury, Cummings.

Referee: Steven McLean.

Attendance: 3553.