IF ANY further evidence were needed of how similar in standard the teams in the SPL are this season, it was provided here.
Scorers: Griffiths (6), Kettlewell (8), Vigurs (33), McPake (44), McMenamin (82)
Second top and second bottom at the start of the game, Hibernian and Ross County traded blow for blow, before substitute Colin McMenamin snatched the points for the home team in a
frenzied conclusion to the game.
It was County’s first victory at home in the top flight, and a much-needed one following a run of three defeats. “A big performance from us, a big result for us, and a deserved 3-2 win,” was home manager Derek Adams’ verdict. “We were by far the better team in the first half and should have been out of sight.”
That may have been so, but Hibs should have been in front by the time McMenamin came off the bench, as they dominated much of the second half. Having said that, they were far more error-prone at the back than they have been for most of this
season, and in midfield they missed the steel of Gary Deegan.
“I’m scratching my head to work out how we lost it,” Hibs boss Pat Fenlon said. “I can’t believe we lost, to be honest.”
Fenlon had already known he would need to reorganise his midfield because of Deegan’s broken jaw, but he was also forced to make a change in defence when Tim Clancy was ruled out by a thigh knock. Alan Maybury came in at right-back for his fellow-Irishman, while Ryan McGivern continued on the left. The manager’s choice in the middle was between Lewis Stevenson and Tom Taiwo, and in the end he opted to give the latter his first start for the club.
Having begun sluggishly in their last game, County needed a bright beginning here, but instead found themselves a goal down after six minutes. Paul Cairney played a ball in from the left, Eoin Doyle knocked it on into the path of Leigh Griffiths, and the striker coolly
sidefooted past Michael Fraser.
Within two minutes, however, the home team were level. Richard Brittain’s high corner was not cleared by the Hibs defence and, when the ball broke to Stuart Kettlewell, he instantly shot into the roof of the net from four yards out.
The ease with which both goals were scored suggested the two goalkeepers would be in for an active afternoon, and so it proved. Iain Vigurs got the better of Hibs keeper Ben Williams midway through the half, but his 20-yard shot curled just off target, crashing off the outside of the right post. At the other end, Jorge Claros had a rare effort on goal, but his long-range shot was also wide of the mark.
Then, ten minutes before half-time, Vigurs gave County the lead after a mix-up in the Hibs defence. The midfielder latched on to a ball over the top and headed it wide of Williams, and, as the cover belatedly arrived to help out the keeper,
Vigurs knocked it into the net from a tight angle.
Just as County looked like
holding on to that lead into the break, Hibs levelled. Griffiths lofted in a free-kick from the left, and James McPake met it 15 yards out to volley home his first goal since May’s Scottish Cup final.
Compared to such a busy first half, the second 45 minutes were uneventful, as both teams ran out of creativity in midfield but also tightened up at the back. A shot on the run from Paul Hanlon which forced Fraser into a decent save was the first effort of note after the break, and that came with 70 minutes on the clock. Nonetheless, it was an indication of Hibs’ growing superiority, as was a Griffiths effort which grazed the crossbar on its way over. But, after being increasingly under the cosh, County delivered the killer blow as time ran out, A looping free-kick into the box from Scott Boyd was knocked on by Gary Glen, and the former Hearts man’s fellow
substitute McMenamin prodded into the net.
Glen was then himself substituted, as Ross Tokely came on to beef up the defence. He did exactly that as County held on for a hard-fought victory.
Ross County: Fraser, Fitzpatrick, Munro, Boyd. Kettlewell, Brittain, Vigurs, Quinn, Kovacevic, Ross.
Substitutes not used: Brown, Lawson, Dingwall, Porritt.
Hibs: Williams, Maybury, McPake, Hanlon, McGivern, Wotherspoon. Claros, Taiwo, Cairney, Doyle, Griffiths.
Substitutes not used: Murdoch, Stevenson, Sproule, Handling, Stanton, Caldwell.
Referee: Steven McLean.