Hibs 2, Dundee United 1: October 5, 2002
FORGET the line about a game of two halves, although that cliché could easily have adorned this encounter, this was more a game of two players. One was Ian Murray, a Scotland Under-21 stalwart who was still being shunned by Scotland manager Berti Vogts but who seemed to be impressing everyone else. He pulled the midfield strings here and proved invaluable to both defence and attack, scoring the matchwinner for the second week in succession.
The ‘other player’ – and the only Dundee United player perhaps capable of outdoing Murray – was Charlie Miller, who sat beached on the bench.
The introduction of Miller and the impetus garnered from Steven Thompson’s 75th-minute goal – stroked home from close range from sub Stephen Carson’s goalline cutback – set up a grand finale that gave Hibs boss Bobby Williamson the jitters and his counterpart Alex Smith more than one reason to curse dastardly bad luck.
Hibs had been 2-0 up and cruising, having conjured up enough first-half chances to clinch any game. Garry O’Connor had hit the opener in the 28th minute after Jarkko Wiss, Alen Orman and Paco Luna had also threatened but the comfort zone lay tantalisingly out of reach as one after the other they were foiled or missed the target.
But Murray was beginning to revel in the role of Captain Marvel. All he had to do, it seemed, is change into the Hibs strip and don the captain’s armband to complete the transformation into comic-book superhero. He was developing into a player with an attitude that managers dreamed of. For a man like Smith, who has made a career out of bringing through raw Scottish talent and who selected him frequently when he was manager of the Scotland Under-21s, the fact that he was once on United’s books must have rubbed salt in the wounds.
Despite the graceful look of a greyhound, you would be foolish not to back him at the dogtrack. He tackled with the tenacity and toughness of an older, stockier player, more often than not choosing the right option whether he be in defence or attack, and he never, ever gives up. Miller, regardless of his undoubted creativity, could only dream of possessing such wide-ranging quality. Even his 51st-minute goal underlined Murray’s versatility. Naturally left-sided, he picked up the ball at the halfway line and darted in on the right-hand side of Paul Gallacher’s goal.
He had the option of squaring the ball to O’Connor but surprised everyone instead with a blistering 20-yard shot off the foot he normally uses to stand on.
That should have been that but while Smith’s youngsters may not be contesting too many iron-man competitions, they proved they have a will cast from metal as they refused to capitulate, first reducing the deficit and then laying siege to Nick Colgan’s goalmouth, ultimately denied by the crossbar and the post rather than a stalwart home defence.
The first came from a Craig Easton header in the 90th minute, while the woodwork once again denied Thompson as stoppage time ebbed away. It may not have been comfortable, it may not have been sexy but it was a victory and when it had been two years since Hibs managed four of those on the trot, that was surely enough.
Hibs: Colgan, Orman, Zambernardi, Fenwick, Matyus, Townsely, Brebner, Wiss, Murray, O’Connor, Luna.