THIS match got the outcome it deserved, a poor game being settled by a poor penalty decision, with Leigh Griffiths, the game’s outstanding player, stroking home from the spot midway through the second half after Jim Goodwin was adjudged to have knocked over Matthew Done in the penalty box, despite the almost total absence of any contact.
Scorers: Hibernian: Griffiths (72 pen)
But then only a masochist would rush to watch this match again. Blink and you might easily miss the television highlights, as an uncharacteristically downbeat St Mirren manager Danny Lennon said after the final whistle. “I was very, very disappointed in the manner in which we went about our business today,” he said. “Hibs came to stop us and did a good job, but it’s very unusual that you have 11 players who all have an off day at the same time, as we did today.”
As for Hibs, they may have collected the three points and moved to fourth, within a point of second-placed Inverness, and Hearts may have been put to the sword by Kilmarnock at Tynecastle, but it wasn’t exactly a good day to be a Hibs fan. Manager Pat Fenlon tried to put a positive spin on the outcome: “I thought our shape was excellent, and we passed the ball excellently – we also got a lot of people behind the ball, which we had worked on all week, and hit them on the counterattack. It’s good to be back winning.” After the dire performance on Monday night against St Johnstone, the Leith side’s fans would certainly agree with the last bit, but the rest of Fenlon’s thoughts might be harder to swallow. The proud boast of the Hibs faithful is that, even if they don’t win much, at least they try to play the beautiful game beautifully. It’s always been their point of difference with their more pragmatic rivals across the city: winning at all costs has never been part of the Easter Road DNA.
Yet the prevailing preoccupation of Fenlon’s side yesterday was simply to ensure that they didn’t get beaten. To achieve that aim they clogged up the midfield with bodies and kept space at a minimum by routinely getting ten men behind the ball. Hibs’ team selection and game plan was designed to stymie, with their stultifying lack of ambition and St Mirren’s waywardness producing a tedious stalemate. Pity the poor paying punters for this was frustrating fare.
What the match desperately needed, of course, was a goal, yet it was so tight that it always looked as if that would take a moment of individual brilliance and the only two players who looked capable of delivering that were Hibs’ Leigh Griffiths and Saints’ barnstorming brick outhouse Esmael Goncalves. Despite both players’ high workrates, however, chances were few and far between as Griffiths was shepherded by the experienced Jim Goodwin, while Goncalves could barely move without being harried and hustled by James McPake.
It was still little surprise that the only two decent chances in the first half were fashioned by Griffiths and Goncalves, both of them coming from strong runs down the right that beat two players and ended with both players coming close to breaking the deadlock. Where Griffiths’ shot from the edge of the box midway through the half came off the hand of Craig Samson and slammed back off the upright, Goncalves’ effort seconds before the break was frustrated by a good stop from Hibs keeper Ben Williams.
Apart from that, the first half was an arid 45 minutes in which Hibs’ paucity of ambition was matched by St Mirren’s inability to string three passes together. If the second half wasn’t exactly a feast of attacking football, at least there was a stepping up of the tempo from Hibs. It almost bore fruit five minutes after the restart, with Tom Taiwo’s glancing header from a Matthew Done cross just missing the back post. That, though, was a false dawn, and apart from the penalty and a late stinging shot straight at Samson from the excellent Griffiths, neither keeper was troubled again.
Afterwards, the chat was all about the penalty. “It was certainly a harsh one,” said Done, “but you’ve got to take them when they come. There was contact, it wasn’t a dive. It was soft though, but these things happen.”
Goodwin was too angry and sensible to give the media the benefits of his thoughts, but the general gist was communicated by his central defensive partner. “It wasn’t a penalty, no way,” said Marc McAusland. “Jim’s adamant that there was no contact and that it wasn’t a penalty. That said, we were poor.”
Hibernian: Williams, Stevenson, McPake, Hanlon, McGivern, Done, Taiwo, Claros, Robertson, Cairney, Griffiths. Subs: Murdoch, Doyle, Wotherspoon, Maybury, Handling, Caldwell, Forster.
St Mirren: Samson, McAusland, McLean, Van Zanten, Dummett, Carey, Gonçalves, Thompson, Newton, McGowan, Goodwin. Subs: Adam, Guy, Barron, Imrie, McGinn, Parkin, Mair.
Referee: Willie Collum