Hibee history: O'Connor ends Highland hoodoo
The Easter Road men had headed back down the A9 without a victory, but O’Connor’s first goal since returning to the club from Barnsley, ended the miserable six-year run.
Both sides looked set to share a point, with Caley’s Gregory Tade and Hibs’ Ian Murray both having thought they’d scored only to be ruled offside while Caley goalkeeper Ryan Esson twice denied O’Connor. In contrast, although Caley were guilty of passing up terrific openings, Hibs No.1 Graham Stack’s first real save came in the dying minutes as he beat away a tremendous shot from Shane Sutherland,
Hibs defender Sean O’Hanlon was sidelined having broken his toe in the season opener against Celtic, his place going to David Stephens in what was otherwise an unchanged Hibs side.
Ivan Sproule was presented with a glorious opportunity to put Hibs ahead after only eight minutes as Callum Booth’s low cross from the left fell to him inside the Caley box. The Northern Ireland internationalist broke through one tackle and looked odds on to score but just as he picked his spot Kenny Gillet came up with a superb goal-saving challenge.
O’Connor was finding life tough as he operated as the lone striker but he pulled the best out of goalkeeper Esson in the 21st minute, taking Lewis Stevenson’s threaded pass before hammering in a shot which the Caley man did well to push away to safety.
The Scotland internationalist went even closer three minutes later as Sproule nodded David Wotherspoon’s cross down into his path, the striker making contact only to see the ball smack off Esson’s face with the goalkeeper knowing little about it.
Hibs had been very much in control, but as the game approached half-time they survived a string of narrow escapes, Richie Foran blasting well over from a good position and Tade stretched to meet Jonny Hayes’ cross as the back post but was unable to do any better than nod wide.
Frenchman Tade thought he had put Caley ahead in the 43rd minute when he slid Foran’s low cross into the net but the offside flag was quickly up against him.
The home fans were screaming for a penalty soon after the restart as Nick Ross’ driven cross crashed off the chest of Stevenson and into the arms of goalkeeper Graham Stack but referee Steve Conroy, rightly, was having nothing to do with it.
The concern for Hibs boss Colin Calderwood would be that having taken a grip of the match his side had fallen out of proceedings somewhat as Caley began to enjoy the upper hand.
Defender Murray looked to have put Hibs ahead in the 62nd minute when he lashed home Matt Thornhill’s knockdown from Wotherspoon’s deep cross but once again the far side assistant Gary Cheyne had the offside flag raised.
Esson was again Caley’s saviour three minutes later, bringing off a tremendous fingertip save to deny Thornhill after good work from Sproule and O’Connor.
Tom Aldred had a glorious chance to win it for the home side eight minutes from time when he got on the end of Haynes’ cross only six yards out but somehow managed to put it wide of the target.
Tansey went even closer 60 seconds from time as Caley went for the win, smacking the ball off the post from close-range when he should have sealed the points for the home side – only for O’Connor to strike gold for Hibs at the death.
Hibs: Stack, Palsson, Booth, Hanlon, Stephens, Wotherspoon, Thornhill, Stevenson, Murray, Sproule, O’Connor.