JUST a couple of weeks ago, Hibs were the team with the momentum. The days of fragility seemed to be a dimming memory as they talked with confidence about their chances of finishing second and limiting the post-season workload required to steer them through the play-off process.
Hibernian - 0
Queen of the South - 1
They will still have their tilt at a return to the top flight but, if they are not careful, they will hurtle headlong into it burdened by the weight of a losing mentality and crumbling egos that has so often proved their nemesis in the past.
“It’s not ideal,” said Hibs manager Alan Stubbs of his side’s mini-losing streak. “But I said to the players at the end sometimes when you get close to cementing what you want to achieve that can be the most critical and most nervous time.
“This is not a time to start ranting and raving. This is a time where you see the team spirit, you see the camaraderie they have amongst themselves, and it’s a time where they just have to be together.”
The faith in themselves and each other which was shown as Hibs racked up the points was apparently less than solid and the defeat by Rangers, followed by another loss last weekend, have left them looking resigned to their fate.
This was a team that had taken games by the scruff of the neck in the recent run and showed some zest in bouncing back from a mixed start to their Championship campaign.
Until the visit of Rangers at the end of March, they had managed to avoid defeat in all but two matches since they lost to Queen of the South at Palmerston in September. But, by the final whistle yesterday, they had lost out on all nine points available to them in the past three outings, leaving their hopes of a second-place finish reliant on favours from their capital rivals, Hearts, who play Stuart McCall’s men twice in the fixture run-in and dependent on them recovering some of their own spirit before they face up to the champions themselves next weekend.
They had been vibrant and full of verve as they threatened to consign the Ibrox side to third place in the final standings, but this performance served as a wishy-washy acceptance that they might not have what it takes after all.
Starved of creativity, the tempo was pedestrian and it was the lack of urgency and intensity which proved to be the even greater sources of irritation to the Hibs fans.
Queen of the South are themselves not firing on all cylinders, but they are not as willing to lie down. With games running out ahead of the play-offs, the seriousness of their circumstances was not lost on James Fowler’s men, who are still looking to seal fourth place.
Coming into this one on the back of two defeats of their own, they trail Falkirk by two points. But with a game in hand, they know they still control their own fortunes and lacked the reticence shown by their hosts.
From the outset they displayed greater intent, with both Gavin Reilly and Derek Lyle testing Mark Oxley. The former was through on goal when the goalkeeper rushed out to block, but the rebound fell to Lyle, who resisted the urge to lash at it and was unfortunate to see his clever lob cleared off the line by Paul Hanlon in the 12th minute.
Lyle forced another save from the Hibs keeper as half-time approached, but the visitors eventually grabbed the advantage just minutes into the second half thanks to Mark Durnan’s close-range finish.
At the other end, there was a lack of spark and while balls were fizzed into the area, no one in the green shirts had the vision, the bottle or the luck to get into the right place at the right time to capitalise on that.
For the vast majority of the game, Queen of the South won every header, desperately contested or cleared the second ball and were unlucky not to be further ahead by the time Hibs started to force saves from Zander Clark, with Dominique Malonga finding the target but no way past the away keeper.
With a sudden burst of urgency, the best chance of an equaliser only came in the dying seconds, when Oxley was given leave to advance and join the massed ranks in the Queen of the South box for Scott Allan’s stoppage time corner. Attacking the delivery, his header found Franck Dja Djedje at the back post but Danny Carmichael was on the line to block.
The win gave Fowler’s men three vital points as they welcome Rangers next and it was an example of the spirit Stubbs now wants to see in his squad as they head to Dumbarton in midweek.
Hibernian: Oxley, Watson, Hanlon, Fontaine, Stevenson, Fyvie (Djedje 79), Robertson, Allan, Stanton, Malonga, Cummings (El Alagui 57) . Subs not used: Cerny, Forster, Craig, Boyle, Handling.
Queen of the South: Clark, Durnan, Dowie, Higgins, Holt, McKenna (A Smith 79), McShane, Carmichael, Paton (Kidd 44), Lyle (D Smith 87), Reilly. Subs not used: Atkinson, Mitchell, Pickard, Hooper.
Referee: C Murray. Attendance: 8,773.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND MOBILE APPS