O’Connor’s strike apart, hosts do little to earn win,

0
Have your say

Well, good riddance to 2011. Twelve entirely forgettable months which have seen Hibs in freefall, a miserable nine league wins all year and just four of them at Easter Road.

Statistics to make any fan weep and despair as to what the future might hold, few viewing the remainder of this season with any great sense of optimism, while Monday’s second Edinburgh derby is being viewed with more than a degree of trepidation by Hibs supporters.

Amid the gloom and despair, though, they should perhaps be grateful for small mercies. A point, given the club’s current predicament, hardly gives cause for any great rejoicing, wins rather than draws are what it is going to take to haul the Capital outfit away from the foot of the SPL table and the threat of becoming embroiled in a relegation dogfight.

But the stalemate which was the outcome of Hibs’ final match of the year did end a run of four successive defeats and with it bring new boss Pat Fenlon his first hint of success since he replaced Colin Calderwood at the helm.

Ironically, in Fenlon’s view, a measure of reward was earned from what he regarded as probably the worst he had seen his side play, leading the Irishman to reflect: “There’s no logic to the game at times.”

What this match did have in common with so many others Hibs have played this season was that, yet again, the Easter Road side got their noses in front and were unable to engineer a victory. Six times in all it has happened in 20 league matches, on this occasion Garry O’Connor’s stunning eighth minute strike – firing a free-kick from 22 yards into the top corner of the net – cancelled out before half-time as Inverness Caley’s Johnny Hayes was allowed to run unchallenged from inside his own half before dispatching a low shot past the outstretched left hand of goalkeeper Graham Stack.

Perhaps the one consolation for Fenlon, though, was that this time there weren’t further opposition goals to come as has happened all too often.

Not that Caley probably weren’t worth at least one more goal on the strength of their first half performance, Terry Butcher’s players shaking off a lethargic start, one their manager put down to an unexpected detour en-route to Easter Road when, having enjoyed a pre-match meal in a North Queensferry hotel, they found themselves having to travel via Kincardine as high winds had closed the Forth Road Bridge to high-sided vehicles.

“It was as if they were still on the bus,” joked the big Englishman, who admitted O’Connor’s 11th goal of the season but his first since the end of September had threatened to totally spoil his 53rd birthday.

Slow they might have been, but Inverness were quickly into their stride, helped by an uncertainty and hesitancy in the home side’s back four although, to be fair, it wasn’t a night for defenders with a gusting wind and squally showers to contend with as well as an opposition which looked threatening every time they went forward.

Stephens pulled off a stunning last-ditch tackle to prevent Billy McKay cancelling out O’Connor’s effort beore Richie Foran cracked a shot off the post while Hayes sent a curling ball inches wide.

Fenlon said: “We started well but scoring seemed to knock us back into our shell rather than getting on the front foot and seeing if we could get a second one.”

Hibs almost did so as Danny Galbraith whipped in an inviting cross which missed everyone before Hayes set off on that great solo run. As exhilarating as it might have been, Fenlon would no doubt have questioned just why the Caley winger was allowed to make such distance totally unchallenged.

In previous matches, conceding an equaliser has all too often led to Hibs simply capitulating but at least there was none of that this time round, although Caley did carve out one or two promising half-chances aided, it has to be said, by a naivety from Hibs at times which saw a number of offenders taking the wrong options in dangerous areas.

Thankfully for them, the Highland side were unable to capitalise and, for once, it was Hibs who finished the stronger team, Lewis Stevenson driving his team-mates on from the middle of the park. Twice the roars went up for a penalty, Martin Scott adamant his header had struck the hands of Kenny Gillet and then Roman Golobart was accused of using an arm to defuse a dangerous ball into the area.

Referee Steve McLean was unimpressed, however, and, if truth be told, on both occasions the shouts appeared to carry more hope than conviction.

Nevertheless, Hibs kept it going right into stoppage time, forcing a succession of corners as Caley rocked, Sean O’Hanlon powering in at the backpost only to see his close-range header thump off the blue shirt of Richie Foran in front of him.

In the end, a point did little in terms of Hibs’ league position. They remain second bottom, albeit now a point ahead of basement outfit Dunfermline who have a game in hand, but on the other hand by avoiding defeat they also ensured the threat of being cast adrift along with the Pars was eliminated.

True, they remain four points behind Caley and six off Aberdeen but they’ve played a game less than both of them, that abandonded match against Motherwell for which no new date has yet been set.

A philosophical Fenlon reflected: “It was probably the worst we have played and we get something out of it so there is no logic to the game at times.

“But the pleasant thing is that we have picked up a point so I suppose that’s the positive thing.”

Butcher also professed to enjoying some satisfaction, if not entirely overjoyed, at having to settle for a point. He said: “Hibs started a lot better than us and got their goal. It was a great one from O’Connor, it lifted Hibs. While it took us a while to get going but we responded well. Once we did that we made some good chances, played some good football and dominated midfield.

“However, neither goalkeeper had much to do in the second half, both teams huffed and puffed but did not blow any houses down.”