HIBS players went into this match on the back of being issued with a new contract of employment by chief executive Rod Petrie which demanded that they worked for at least 35 hours every week.
Hibs 2-1 Dundee
November 16, 2002
The side certainly made it hard for themselves against Dundee as they failed to bury their opponents at Easter Road.
Despite a two-goal advantage, thanks to a header and a penalty by Mixu Paatelainen, they contrived to be on the back foot for most of the second half, and must have been relieved to hear the final whistle bring an end to five minutes of injury time.
Substitute Nacho Novo reduced the deficit in the 93rd minute and, in a desperate onslaught, goalkeeper Julian Speroni even lent himself to the attack, but it was too late for the visitors to prevent their first defeat at Easter Road since 1991. It was an unremarkable match that sprung to life only when the visitors realised the gravity of their situation.
Lee Wilkie was absent, having been sent off in the midweek clash with Dunfermline prior to this away fixture for the Dens. And it was clear after only 12 minutes that the visitors were going to miss his lofty presence in central defence. That was how long it took Hibs to capitalise on a sprightly start to the game with its opening goal.
It was the 35-year-old Paatelainen who nodded in the early opener as he levered his body off the ground to glance a deep cross inside the back post.
The Finn would admit that his fourth goal of the season had more to do with the work of wing-back Craig James than it did his own neck muscles. The 20-year-old Englishman, who had made himself comfortable in the first team since joining on loan from Sunderland, exchanged a smart one-two with Paco Luna before curling in the perfect ball.
Despite a couple of speculative efforts by Jarkko Wiss and Alen Orman, the Bosnian who had just been called into Austria’s national squad, the most demanding test for Dundee goalkeeper Speroni in those opening 45 minutes emanated from a rather unlikely source of danger.
Yannick Zambernardi, the former Troyes defender who had given balance to Hibs’ back three, demonstrated impressive belief in his own abilities when he stepped no more than a couple of yards out of the centre circle and wafted in a casual lob that forced Speroni to tip over the bar. The backtracking goalkeeper, who rose from the turf nursing a sore arm, had doubtless damaged his pride into the bargain.
It was by altogether more orthodox means that Hibs extended their lead four minutes into the second half. When Luna failed to make the most of Paatelainen’s flick, the big striker charged down the loose ball and earned his team a dubious penalty by inviting Dave Mackay’s innocuous challenge inside the area. The Finn found Speroni’s bottom right-hand corner from the spot.
If that was supposed to confirm the home side’s superiority for the rest of the match, nobody told the scriptwriter, who found himself logging a vigorous response by the visitors. The saddest thing about Dundee’s recovery, slow at first, then utterly convincing in its domination of the last half-hour, is that a two-goal deficit was required to trigger it.
Hibs goalkeeper Nick Colgan twice had to smother the ball, first when Stuart Lovell was clean through and then when Juan Sara strove to capitalise on a short passback by Ian Murray, but he was unable to prevent the goal in injury time which was too late to affect the outcome. Novo’s low shot from 16 yards seemed to touch the goalkeeper’s gloves as it flew in off the near post.