Aberdeen-Hibs final word: No killer touch as Stevie Mallan responds to Derek McInnes criticism
Branded soft and weak by boss Paul Heckingbottom, Hibs have responded since in a manner which the head coach probably hoped he’d provoke, an accusation which players have admitted stung their pride.
There have undoubtedly been encouraging signs, but that elusive win remains outwith their grasp. Having not tasted victory since the opening day of the Premiership season, the Capital outfit headed for home from Aberdeen on Saturday knowing they’ll rarely get a better chance to rid themselves of that unwanted run.
But for the profligacy of striker Christian Doidge, the £350,000 signing still struggling for a league goal, a first win in more than seven years at Pittodrie would have been theirs – and by some margin. In the end, the match finished 1-1.
Four times in all, the former Forest Green Rovers man was denied by Aberdeen goalkeeper Joe Lewis, on each occasion having been left one-on-one with him. His greatest sin, however, was his failure to spot team-mate Scott Allan totally unmarked and in position to tap the ball home late in the second half with the score at 1-0 to Hibs, rather going it alone in one last desperate bid to get off the mark.
Ahead thanks to Ryan Porteous’ 48th minute of opportunism and the Dons reduced to ten mean after Curtis Main’s lunge on midfielder Stevie Mallan, a second goal then would have killed the match but, instead, they were punished, Sam Cosgrove rising to nod home a late equaliser.
That Cosgrove should have still been on the pitch at that stage was a matter for debate, the big hitman – already on a booking – scything down Lewis Stevenson before his fellow frontman saw red.
Lewis Ferguson followed Main down the tunnel for an early bath, Mallan again the victim in added-on time, an action which had no bearing on the final outcome but ensured the Hibs player got it in the neck from Aberdeen boss Derek McInnes as he left the pitch.
Mallan, however, simply shrugged it, off saying: “He was accusing me of milking it a little bit, telling me to stay on my feet. Del, as an ex-player, still has that passion and fight.
“He’s showing that he cares about his team. I can’t hold that against him. He’s trying to defend his own players, isn’t he?
“I’m pretty sure, if it was the other way about, our manager would be doing the exact same.
“I expected that, to be honest. He’s had two players sent off, he’s maybe got a bit of a grievance, didn’t think they were worth red cards, so he’s going to show a bit of emotion after the match. It happens.”
Heckingbottom, though, insisted both were thoroughly merited, claiming Mallan could “have been in trouble” had his leg been planted when Main hit him and accusing Ferguson of a similar challenge.
Mallan claimed not to have seen the Cosgrove incident – the Aberdeen player naturally pleaded his innocence and accused the Hibs players of surrounding referee Don Robertson in a bid to influence him – but added: “A few of the boys were saying he was lucky not to get another yellow. I was on the other side of the pitch so didn’t see it so well. Again, I felt the referee got a lot of decisions right today.
“But there were a few rash challenges that, on another day, most referees in Scotland would send players off for them. During the match, it’s hard to judge them all. The supporters probably get a better view.”
Dropped points rather than red cards, however, was the more pressing issue for Mallan.
“We shot ourselves in the foot when they went down to ten men, especially,” he said. “The second red was so late it didn’t really count, that they went down to nine. But at 1-0 against ten men, we should have seen the game out.
“We have a few one-on-ones, a few chances where we could have buried the game. Aberdeen crept back in, as they always do. They got one chance and they took it.
“We had a period of about 15-20 minutes after the first sending off when we kept the ball and they were chasing it. But we kept the ball in not-so-dangerous areas. Yeah, we were tiring them out – but we weren’t damaging them.
“That’s what the gaffer went on about to us afterwards, that in these situations you have to kill off teams. With the chances we had, we should have killed them off and seen the game out.
“We were in total control of the game, we let them get a few corners – and suddenly they’ve scored. But it’s still our own fault for not seeing out the game and giving the travelling support something to cheer on the road home.”