It was shaping up to be quite a party, a comfortable win with the three points gained propelling Hibs back into second place in the SPL table.
Instead, there was plenty for Hibs star Tom Taiwo and his team-mates to ponder as they headed for their Christmas night out in Newcastle.
Surrendering a two-goal lead against Motherwell and slipping to a fourth defeat in five league matches certainly took the shine off the annual Festive bash, Taiwo revealing everyone within the home dressing-room at Easter Road had been left utterly dejected by the dramatic twist of events they experienced.
Apparently cruising to victory courtesy of Eoin Doyle’s two goals, scored either side of half-time, Pat Fenlon’s outfit somehow contrived to lose a game which was well within their grasp, Jamie Murphy claiming a double of his own for the Steelmen before substitute Bob McHugh delivered the coup de grace with the winner two minutes from time.
Not surprisingly, the stadium echoed to the sound of booing on the final whistle as the Hibs fans, praised by boss Fenlon and his players for their backing following two seasons of suffering, made their displeasure known.
Like the players, many would no doubt have been heading to Christmas parties of their own and, an hour in to Saturday’s match, they would have been anticipating having a little more cause to celebrate only to have that stunning Motherwell fightback put a dampener on proceedings.
There were, however, no excuses from Fenlon or his players. They knew full well they’d been the authors of their own downfall, with the manager accusing them of simply having stopped playing when Doyle struck for the second time believing they’d already done enough to have the game won.
Stuart McCall’s outfit, though, reminded them that no matter what the scoreline may be in any match, the points aren’t decided until the final blast of the referee’s whistle.
And for midfield star Taiwo it was a less than gentle warning that Fenlon’s new-look side are still far from the finished article, regardless of the fact they are confounding critics by competing in the upper reaches of the table rather than scrapping at the bottom.
The former Leeds United, Chelsea and Carlisle United player said: “It was so disappointing. We had a great first-half performance and the ten minutes after the restart then, to be honest, I can’t really tell you what happened.
“It’s hard to pin-point when you are out there. It happened so quickly but obviously we did not play as well as we had done up to the 55th or 60th minute. Working hard to get a 2-0 lead and playing well makes it really disappointing to have gone on and lost the game. The boys were just sat in the changing-room really dejected and not best pleased.”
While Motherwell were due credit for refusing to fold by taking the game to Hibs, Taiwo agreed Hibs should have been capable of handling the situation. He said: “The big boy [Michael Higdon] up front for them was a handful and the more they played the ball forward the more difficult it was for us not to go deep.
“We need to respond to that and learn in the future what we can to do get ourselves up the pitch and to retain the ball better than we did. The first 60 minutes were fantastic, we played some great football, scored two good goals but then the last 30 minutes showed we are not the finished article, that there’s a long way to go before we achieve the heights we know we are capable of.”
Hibs’ exploits had slowly been winning back an increasing number of fans, many of whom had become disenchanted by the events of the past two years culminating in that crushing Scottish Cup final defeat at the hands of Hearts, but Taiwo urged them to consider this setback, while again the result of conceding avoidable goals, as no more than a pothole on the road to better things.
The 22-year-old said: “There are always going to be weeks were the team performs poorly or the result doesn’t go our way, but I just hope the fans take heart from the first 60 minutes, realise we are a work in progress and that it is not for the lack of effort or the lack of desire to win the matches.
“Sometimes there’s a little bit of naivety on our part, that we cannot see a game out. We are quite a resilient team, especially at home where he have shown we can scrap and fight to dig out results and keep clean sheets so that was disappointing that we did now show the resilience we usually do.”
There was a hint of controversy around Motherwell’s matchwinner too. Everyone in green and white – and David Wotherspoon in particular – was adamant Hibs had won a corner, only for assistant referee Dougie Potter to indicate a bye-kick, allowing McCall’s side to race to the other end of the park and claim those three precious points.
Taiwo said: “It should have been a corner but, there again, we should have defended better as a team. There was a long way for the ball to go from a goal kick and into our net. We were disappointed with that decision but we have to show more resilience than we did.”
Deepening the Hibees’ feeling of despair was the sight of skipper James McPake heading up the tunnel only moments before his team-mates, the big defender picking up a second yellow card for a midfield challenge on Murphy, bringing his comeback following a six-match absence through injury to a premature end. As a result McPake will sit out Sunday’s visit to Rugby Park but Taiwo insisted that otherwise the former Livingston and Coventry City player could be happy with his performance while the sight of broken jaw victim Gary Deegan being given a 20 minute run following nine games out was another ray of sunshine in what otherwise had become a gloomy afternoon for Hibs.
He said: “I thought James had played well, he won a lot in the air against a big, tough opponent. He showed his leadership qualities and we were disappointed for him – I thought it was very soft – because he has worked really hard to get back to fitness.
“It was also good to see Gary back, he’s another who has shown a great desire to get back. I think he’s actually a little bit ahead of schedule but he’s a strong character and it’s credit to him he’s got back so quickly.”