One goal or ten, it was of little concern to Hibs boss Alan Stubbs who had his eyes fixed on just one target – three points.
To that end, the margin of victory didn’t matter, the Easter Road outfit intent on capitalising on the previous night’s result when Rangers had drawn with Falkirk, a result which also dented the Bairns’ hopes of overhauling Hibs as the race for second spot in the Championship table and those other places intensifies.
It’s that time of the season when, despite the footballing mantra of concentrating on your own results and ignoring what’s going on elsewhere, the eye is drawn to how your closest rivals have fared – a bonus for Stubbs and his players having ground out a narrow win over Alloa Athletic being to learn that another of their play-off rivals, Queen of the South, had also dropped precious points at Dumbarton.
As such, while the ten goals scored by Capital neighbours Hearts against Cowdenbeath raised eyebrows in the away dressing-room at the Indodrill Stadium, all that counted as far as they were concerned was Scott Allan’s superbly struck free-kick midway through the first half which was enough to separate the sides and allow Hibs to open up a four-point gap on Rangers.
The Ibrox club do, of course, have three games in hand. Slowly but surely, though, Stubbs’ players are applying just that little bit more pressure on the crisis-torn Glasgow club as a run of just one defeat in 19 league games – or just one over the course of 90 minutes in 24 matches in all competitions stretching back more than five months – would suggest.
As impressive as that might be, head coach Stubbs insisted he wasn’t interested in those figures, saying: “We are doing everything right. Everything asked of us.
“Yes, we are making up for lost time from what happened at the beginning of the season, but the most important statistic will be going up with Hearts at the end of the season.
“It’s not going to be easy, but that’s what we are aiming for and we are certainly going to give it a good go.”
Results rather than performances count at this stage, Stubbs readily admitting this wasn’t the best display his side had produced, but highlighting the difficulties most sides encounter at a ground where the artificial surface is, in his estimation, “a real leveller”.
He said: “When you look at other results there this season it’s a difficult place to go. I don’t think there’s been any big scorelines, which tells you everything about the place.
“It was all about getting three points and capitalising on the previous night’s result.”
Underfoot and overhead conditions, torrential rain and a blustery wind, made life difficult for both sets of players, turning the match into a somewhat scrappy affair with free-flowing football at a premium. But Hibs again displayed the gritty, determined side of their game as they held on to that Allan strike although there were instances in which they might have made life a touch easier for themselves, as Fraser Fyvie admitted.
The midfielder had two chances, one in each half, hooking the ball wide and then seeing his shot blocked by the body of Wasps defender Daryll Meggatt, while Martin Boyle rattled one effort off goalkeeper Craig McDowall’s legs and sent another inches wide and fellow substitute Jason Cummings fired over when he would feel he should have scored four minutes from the end.
Fyvie said: “It was a bit of a grind to be honest, but we wanted the three points so we are happy with the result. We made it a bit harder for ourselves. We had chances, including myself, but it was a good grinding performance.”
It was the former Aberdeen player’s first visit to Alloa since he snapped the cruciate ligament in his left knee at the same ground five years ago and, he revealed, the first time he’d played on a plastic surface since, having been advised by the surgeon who repaired the damage to avoid such pitches.
“I was a bit nervous before the game because of the pitch,” he disclosed. “But I couldn’t go to the manager and say I didn’t want to play on that pitch, could I? The nerves went when I started playing and, to be fair, the pitch was actually better than the last time, a bit softer.
“It was the first time I have been on astro since my injury because I am not allowed to play on it – that’s what my surgeon said. Those surfaces can be very sticky. The last time my studs caught in the ground, my body went one way and my knee the other.”
The pitch, Stubbs revealed, was partially behind his decision to drop Liam Fontaine to the bench, the defender having felt a little tightness in a thigh.
“I just didn’t want to take a chance,” said Stubbs. “It was too much of a risk, even more so on that particular surface.”
In Fontaine’s absence, Keith Watson partnered Paul Hanlon in central defence as Hibs suffered only one real fright in the 90 minutes, Philip Roberts shot deflecting off Scott Robertson and forcing goalkeeper Mark Oxley to throw himself full length to his left to push the ball away, an incident which highlighted the fragility of a single-goal lead.
But, in the end, Hibs clocked up a third successive clean sheet, with just one goal conceded in their last six Championship matches – a statistic which underlines the progress since the early days of the campaign when Stubbs’ side was a touch vulnerable. He conceded: “Earlier in the season it might have been different but we knew we were going to have to defend set pieces, that they’d take every opportunity to throw the ball into our box. However, I thought we limited the number of them to what we wanted.
“We could have been better, but the pitch is a real leveller. You have to be very accurate. Anything in front of people it just gathers pace and goes away. But on the whole I am delighted, the boys knew how important that result was to us.”