It was grim viewing at times for those 1758 Hibs fans who had travelled to Paisley expecting another swashbuckling performance from Neil Lennon’s players only to watch them grind out the expected win against struggling St Mirren.
But while some might have been grimacing, there was nothing that could wipe the smile off defender Efe Ambrose’s face.
Yes, those at the back had a few more anxious moments than they might have anticipated, not that the Nigerian internationalist appeared to notice. But apart from being skinned by Saints new boy Simeon Jackson, Ambrose strolled through the match. The Nigerian is a confident player even at the worst of times but at the top of his game he is magnificent. And he was there as the Buddies did everything they could to cancel out David Gray’s early header. He even had time to execute a “drag back” which would have had Zinedine Zidane purring.
Today, the 29-year-old is far removed from that sorry figure who was vilified by some at Celtic Park following a couple of high-profile mistakes, and while those “Efe moments” crop up from time to time, Ambrose has found himself welcomed with outstretched arms by the Hibs support.
The fact he has played every minute of the 68 games out of 69 the Edinburgh club have had since his arrival, initially on loan from Celtic, underlines just how key he has been to recent success, his ability to produce the unexpected when sometimes you suspect even he doesn’t quite know what he is going to do next, simply further endears him to the fans.
Off the park Ambrose is as laid back as he appears on it, complete with that grin and a humility which, while agreeing he is currently in great form, sees him put that down to the players around him and a manager who, while clearly exasperated at times with some of his antics, has total faith in him.
He insisted: “It’s a team thing, the team is doing well. We lost some good players in the summer, brought a few in to make us better. It’s not been easy, but we have been working these last few weeks as we’ve had to change our style of play, the tactics, everything.
“We are trying to adapt but we have great depth in the squad, players that can change the game for us. Everyone is on the top of his game at the moment, now we just have to keep working hard.”
And while he is someone who is playing as if he’s enjoying every minute, Ambrose added: “Every time I go on to the pitch I try to give my best. I don’t know if this is the best I have played but I am always determined to give my best – I never change.”
Gray’s 14th-minute header was his fifth goal of the season, the club captain continuing to enjoy his best-ever return in that regard as he again found space at the back post to nod home former Saints midfielder Stevie Mallan’s corner.
St Mirren boss Oran Kearney was unhappy that referee Euan Anderson hadn’t spotted Flo Kamberi holding a couple of his players, although it looked simply as if the Swiss striker had stood his ground, blocking the pair from getting to his team-mate.
“That was one from the training ground,” revealed Ambrose. “We know we are strong at set-pieces but we can also score from every area of the pitch so we know if we can keep a clean sheet then we have every chance of winning the game.”
It was a third consecutive shutout for Hibs as they bounced back from the bitter disappointment of exiting the Betfred Cup on penalties, and one which, allied to Gray’s goal, made it three league wins in succession, the result in Paisley, as Lennon observed, important given the other teams around them in the table had also won.
Lennon’s only complaint was wastefulness in front of goal, that shortcoming having been at the root of their defeat by Aberdeen in the Betfred Cup, unable to capitalise on just one of the 24 attempts they’d had.
Gray’s goal might have been enough but Lennon said: “Our finishing was woeful. We’re missing chances and that’s driving me nuts. We’re giving the opposition encouragement by not taking our chances.
“We could have put the game out of sight but in the end we had to grind it out.”
Ambrose wouldn’t have disagreed but pointed out: “Celtic came here and could not score. We got the goal, tried to open them up but they stuck to their tactics and it was a difficult second half for us.”