Familiar Hibs tale of Saints and sinners – but Scott Allan sub is real storyline
St Johnstone certainly know how to do a number on Hibs at Easter Road. Three times on the trot the Perth club have pitched up and hit the home side with a last-minute sucker punch.
Last season it was Joe Shaughnessy as Saints grabbed all three points, the year before Steven McLean clinched the win, scoring just seconds after Anthony Stokes’ spot-kick appeared to have salvaged a draw.
So, perhaps, Paul Heckingbottom’s players should be grateful for small mercies, that Jason Kerr’s header this time round at least left them with a point to show for their troubles – not that it felt that way.
“It was a sickener,” admitted Hibs defender Adam Jackson. “When you think you have the three points and for them to score right at the end is gutting. It feels like a defeat.”
A point, however, was no less than St Johnstone – who haven’t had their troubles to seek so far this season – deserved at the end of the day, allowed to take a hold of the game and feed off the nerves which gripped both Heckingbottom’s side and their fans.
The early-season optimism, a new head coach at the wheel, a clutch of summer signings and a multi-millionaire American businessman in Ron Gordon having bought the club, is quickly evaporating.
What Gordon made of his first visit to Easter Road since buying out Sir Tom Farmer only he knows, but no doubt he’ll have taken note of the unrest among the support who, according to Heckingbottom, created an anxiety which fed through to those on the pitch.
The fans, he insisted, should do more to encourage the players but it is a two way street, those watching react to what they see and after a run of three games in which they’ve shipped 11 goals it’s only natural that they are beginning to feel uneasy.
So far performances have been far from convincing, with Heckingbottom appearing to yet to have settled on his starting line-up, on this occasion playmaker Scott Allan strangely asked to play on the right of a middle four rather than the more central role where he is so much more effective.
Only once did we see a glimpse of what we know he can do, slipping a delightful ball through for Christian Doidge – paired up front with Flo Kamberi – who couldn’t get enough on his shot to trouble Saints goalkeeper Zander Clark.
Heckingbottom’s response, though, was to almost immediately replace Allan, a double substitution which also saw Doidge come off, Daryl Horgan and Vykintas Slivka taking their places to a chorus of boos, not directed at them but an indication of the testiness which is creeping in.
Revealing Allan hadn’t been at his best in training during the week, Heckingbottom quipped: “I didn’t know there was a law up here that you can’t take him off. We put two international players on, we should have been good enough to win the game.”
Hibs, however, need to find that ability to see games out, in front thanks to Jackson’s towering header which brought him his first goal of the season, they were level when Michael O’Halloran hammered a shot into the roof of the net.
Almost immediately Kamberi had them ahead again, only for the home side to go into their shell, conceding territory and possession until the inevitable happened although, claimed Heckingbottom, there was an element of offside as Kerr scored.
“It was a kick in the teeth,” admitted Jackson. “Them being offside as well, it was really frustrating. But in the last five we couldn’t get out, our defensive line got a bit deep and we didn’t push up higher.
“That’s probably what the gaffer’s message will be in training this week, we need to try to get the ball more in their half and keep it up there. We were inviting trouble.”
And, conceded the 25-year-old, he was in no mood to celebrate what was his first goal in almost two years. He said: “I would rather we win 2-1 and I didn’t score than score and draw 2-2. It’s nice to score, but I’d rather have had the win.”
Hibs: Marciano; Gray (Whittaker 58), Jackson, Hanlon, Stevenson; Allan (Horgan 61), Mallan, Vela, Middleton; Doidge (Slivka 61), Kamberi. Subs not used: Maxwell, Newell, Porteous, Shaw.
St Johnstone: Clark; Duffy, Kerr, Gordon, Tanser; McCann, Davidson, Caig (Hendry 74), O’Halloran, Kane (Swanson 79), Kennedy.
Substitutes not used: Parish, Callachan, Vihmann, McClean, Denham.