Hope springs infernal for Hibs - but do they deserve to avoid Scottish Premiership purgatory?

The faces on the Hibs bench say it all as St Johnstone take all three points at Easter Road.The faces on the Hibs bench say it all as St Johnstone take all three points at Easter Road.
The faces on the Hibs bench say it all as St Johnstone take all three points at Easter Road.
Monty’s men still have outside chance of reversing into respectable finish

These are grim times to be a Hibs supporter. Grimmer still, arguably, to be one of the frontline employees charged with achieving a modicum of success for a middle-sized club in one of European football’s smaller but most intensive markets. Even if the professionals in charge are at least getting paid to be part of a season teetering on the brink.

Among those who let last week’s season ticket seat renewal deadline pass without automatically signing on for another year, sympathy for the Easter Road leadership is in short supply. Anyone who witnessed chief executive Ben Kensell being button-holed by an infuriated supporter after the final whistle yesterday could testify to that.

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Watching an ashen-faced Nick Montgomery go through the motions at his post-match post-mortem, meanwhile, left all convinced that he understands the gravity of the situation. The Yorkshireman with the managerial grounding in Australian football is as affected as any lifelong supporter by the current plight of ‘his’ club.

Seven months into the gig, Monty knows that Hibs could be pitched into the purgatory of utter irrelevance – cast into the bottom six for a post-split fixture card carrying all the appeal of speed dating with the Manson Family – before his team even get a chance to save themselves at Fir Park on Saturday. That has to hurt.

Reflecting on a miserable home defeat to St Johnstone and surveying a Scottish Premiership table laden with potential chaos, then, what are we to make of it all? With possibly one last shot at respectability left for Hibs, here’s what we know:

Hope springs infernal

Hibs could still qualify for the top six. Might even gain ground in the race for a European qualifying spot. Scotland fans who lived through the BC era – Before Clarke – may feel a pang of nostalgia at hearing Monty talk about not giving up until it’s “mathematically impossible.” That used to be our regular mantra, as Tartan Army regulars in the bad old days.

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The Hibees might even get into the top half of the table with a draw against Motherwell at Fir Park on Saturday if – and it’s a big if – Dundee lose to Rangers at Dens Park on Wednesday night, then fall to Aberdeen at Pittodrie on Saturday. Hibs would then reverse into the top six on goal difference.

But a Dundee win in either of those two fixtures puts the issue beyond doubt. So it could all be over by midweek. Assuming that game goes ahead on a pitch unlikely to have been improved by yesterday’s activity.

Hibernian’s best bet? Hope Rangers win on Wednesday. Then go out and get a victory over Motherwell. Knowing that the home side – currently sitting eighth in the table - could leapfrog both teams ahead of them, with the right sequence of results. Now go away for a lie down and don’t think about the permutations again for at least 24 hours. You know it makes sense.

Defenders, eh? Who needs them?

Will Fish was apparently ill at half-time. Paul Hanlon was on the bench but went unused. Nectar Triantis, who had looked decent enough in midfield, was dropped back into the centre of defence – and promptly got caught trying to play Adama Sidibeh offside for the St Johnstone opener.

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Given his previous struggles at centre-half, moving Triantis into the last line of defence always looked a risky move. Even without the benefit of hindsight.

The loss of the winning goal, regardless of who was supposed to be doing what in terms of marking, goes down as another set-piece disaster for Hibs. Hardly the first in a season of awful defending against dead ball deliveries.

Not a penalty, according to Video Assistant Referee David MunroNot a penalty, according to Video Assistant Referee David Munro
Not a penalty, according to Video Assistant Referee David Munro

Montgomery said of the recurring flaw: “It's a collective thing. We work on it all the time. I think we've been good defending set-pieces lately. We made a lot of changes in January, and we went through a period when we possibly conceded goals from set-pieces.

“It's a moment where we have to clear the ball, we put it out for a corner when we shouldn't have done, and then we have to defend the corner. We had got back into the game at 1-1 and applied a lot of pressure.

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“When you concede from a set-piece it's really disappointing. It can't happen. There's nothing we can do after that apart from try and get back into the game. It's really disappointing to lose two goals from two shots on target but it can be a cruel game at times.”

Bill Foley picked a good game to miss

The billionaire Bournemouth owner’s plans to attend yesterday’s fixture were blown off course by a scheduling issue and Storm Kathleen. That doesn’t mean the newest investor in Hibs won’t have paid attention to the result, though. Or its impact on his plans to establish Hibs as the undisputed third force in Scottish football.

How much influence does a 25 per cent stake buy the American? And might he be tempted to at least suggest that the Gordon family, still majority shareholders and adamant that they’re calling all the shots, consider even a partial clearing of the decks?

Should Hibs miss out on a place in the respectable half of the Scottish Premiership table, blame for failure will be shared across multiple individuals in different departments. Not to mention a few geezers no longer associated with the club.

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Things could get grim, indeed, if the people signing the cheques carry out a truly forensic examination of the recruitment, contract management and million other elements that go into running a club. Even one temporarily embarrassed by their circumstances.