Tomorrow marks Colin Calderwood’s first anniversary as manager of Hibs, but the occasion is highly unlikely to prompt any wild celebrations in and around Easter Road.
Twelve months on from succeeding John Hughes, Calderwood finds the Edinburgh club exactly where he found them, struggling in the nether regions of the SPL table.
The opening round of fixtures are now gone and Hibs are just one point off bottom, having gathered a mere nine points from their opening 11 matches with, on the face of it, little if any discernible progress having been made with the former Scotland defender at the helm.
There have, of course, been glimmers of hope in the intervening period, that stunning 3-0 win over Rangers which gave Calderwood his first victory and that run of five straight wins which banished any thought of a relegation dog-fight last season.
More recently a five-game stretch without defeat, which included squeezing into the quarter-finals of the Scottish Communities League Cup, again hinted at better things to come.
While that was brought to an end by a single-goal defeat at Ibrox, the performance that day, even if Calderwood felt his side offered Rangers too many chances, appeared to support the belief that, finally, Hibs were getting their act together.
It was a display which should have left Calderwood’s players eager for further action but, instead they began this match in dilatory mood, as if the break enforced by the final round of Euro 2012 qualifying games had been extended for a few minutes more.
Even the sight of Jamie Murphy rising to nod home Motherwell’s opener after just eight minutes wasn’t enough to shake Calderwood’s players out of their torpor, Hibs looking laboured, pedestrian when in possession and lacking in creativity.
That Stuart McCall’s side, tightening their grip on second place following Celtic’s draw at Kilmarnock, didn’t punish them further was down to yet another terrific demonstration of goalkeeping from Graham Stack who extended his heroics beyond the half-time break to ensure he and his team-mates remained in the game until the final whistle.
As welcome as an equaliser might have been, it would have been rough justice on the Fir Park outfit who had arrived in the Capital intent on revenge for their penalty shoot-out exit in the League Cup the other week.
Stack said: “It was a real, real slow start straight from kick-off, we did not get going. People were saying they thought Motherwell were different class in the first-half. I disagree.
“I thought we were poor, never got to grips with the game. We were sloppy, slow, lacked movement and did not create anything. Do that against a side like Motherwell and that makes it extremely hard to win games.”
Hibs’ lethargic start certainly made life easy for Motherwell. With Steve Jennings providing an effective shield in front of the back four Junior Agogo and Garry O’Connor were rarely offered even a glimpse of Darren Randolph in the visiting goal throughout the 90 minutes.
How Stack must wish he could indulge himself in such a luxury, Hibs’ demise, as so often has been the case over recent seasons, being their inability to defend the simplest of situations.
Fingers could have been pointed all over the place once more. Why was Tom Hateley allowed the time to collect a short throw-in before delivering the cross in the first place? Could Sean O’Hanlon have done better as Murphy stole in behind him? Why didn’t either Victor Palsson or Martin Scott, who were patrolling that flank, at least match Murphy’s run and make life more difficult rather than see him get a free header? Again Stack, who was adamant he couldn’t have come for the cross as it swung away from him, was spot-on with his assessment saying: “It was a sloppy goal to concede. They did not have to carve us open and that’s the biggest disappointment.”
If Motherwell had been nursing a grievance over the nature of their League Cup exit then they surely salved their hurt with that first-half display, one which Calderwood conceded entitled them to all three points.
He said: “They were terrific, they dominated the first half, that was obvious for everyone to see. They were deserved winners.”
As good as Motherwell might have been, though, Stack had a point in claiming Hibs had contributed to their own downfall once again, an opinion with which Calderwood wholeheartedly agreed.
The Hibs boss said: “We did not play on the front foot, we did not get anywhere near it, we did not affect Motherwell.
“Too many people were not prepared to show good positions for the ball and that meant people on the ball delayed their pass too long, something you hate to see as a manager and a coach.”
Hibs improved somewhat after the interval, something Calderwood put down to his players being more willing to run and “do their jobs,” as they had been beforehand but even so they proved susceptible time and again to being hit on the break by Motherwell with Higdon proving something of a thorn in the flesh.
Stack had already spread himself well to save from the former Falkirk and St Mirren hitman before that stupendous double-save, the goalkeeper getting down to push away Higdon’s downward header before somehow thrusting out his shoulder to deflect the second effort wide.
On that basis, Stack probably earned himself the touch of luck he deserved when Higdon’s free header clipped the top of his crossbar and went over.
Despite the plaudits, Stack revealed the two man-of-the-match awards he’d received recently meant little. He said: “I’ve had two good games on the bounce but we’ve not got a point on the board so, from that point-of-view, it’s very disappointing.
“When you play well as a goalie and do not go on to get any points it’s brushed under the carpet as it’s not so effective as keeping your team in the game and going up the other end and scoring goals.
“I’ve been pleased with the way I have been playing, but disappointed not to have won.”
While jeers may have reverberated around Easter Road once more, Stack insisted that under Calderwood Hibs are moving in the right direction no matter what the statistics might suggest. He claimed: “There has been an improvement. Six games ago we looked a poor side, no two ways about it, the results were reflecting that.
“The last five games we have done a lot better. We went to Ibrox and were beaten but could have taken something out of it. But I think the break came at a bad time, we looked as if we had been off. It took us too long to get going, it took us to half-time to turn things round and we cannot afford to do that.”
Events so far might suggest otherwise, but Stack was equally adamant in claiming everyone at Easter Road feels the currently grim outlook will look much better come the end of the season, declaring: “We still really believe as a team we can finish in the top six. The record is not great certainly, but it is something we are desperate to turn around and change.”
Again, though, Stack agreed with Calderwood it’s high time he and his team-mates began producing on matchday the form they display on a daily basis at the club’s East Mains training ground. He added: “When you look at our squad we have a lot of quality. It’s all right having it on paper, but it’s about time the players that are performing in training and are great on the team sheet actually put the shirt on at the weekend and start turning on good performances.”