Hibs 6, Arbroath 1: Simon Murray nets hat-trick

Simon Murray heads home Hibs' opener. Pic: SNS
Simon Murray heads home Hibs' opener. Pic: SNS
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Some Hibs fans may have been more than a touch sceptical about the signing of Simon Murray but they are certainly warming to the flame-haired striker after he grabbed a hat-trick against Arbroath, taking his goals tally to five.

The former Dundee United hitman, who had headed home two goals in the Easter Road club’s opening Betfred Cup match against Montrose, nodded in the opener against his old side as Neil Lennon’s players threatened to steamroller their League One opposition.

But the Red Lichties stunned the Premiership-bound Capital club with an equaliser, Steven Doris taking advantage of the Hibs defence switching off as he found himself all alone at the back post to net.

Ryan Porteous restored Hibs lead with another header before the break and two goals early in the second half, Simon Murray tapping home his second and a superb strike from Scotland midfielder John McGinn, put them on easy street.

Nineteen-year-old Porteous completed a night to remember, named man-of-the-match and bulleting home a second header two minutes from time to make it five for the Hibees.

And bang on the final whistle, Murray got on the end of Steven Whittaker’s cross to claim his third and Hibs’ sixth of the game.

Hibs could also afford the luxury of a penalty miss from Danny Swanson four minutes after Murray’s opener, the midfielder trying to put too much power into his shot and succeeding only in blasting the ball high and wide.

This win leaves Hibs a point behind Ross County in Group D, with both clubs having one match remaining – the Edinburgh side away to Alloa Athletic and the Staggies travelling to Gayfield on Saturday.

Hibs boss Neil Lennon continued to rotate his squad to ensure each player enjoys a reasonable amount of game time ahead of the Premiership season getting under way, on this occasion goalkeeper Ross Laidlaw, skipper David Gray, Liam Fontaine and Porteous getting a run as Ofir Marciano and Marvin Bartley dropped to the bench while Dylan McGeouch and Darren McGregor were given the night off.

New signing Deivydas Matulevicius looked on from the main stand, his Lithuanian countryman Vykintas Silvka sitting alongside him as the Juventus midfielder awaits the final paperwork to complete his season-long loan in Edinburgh.

Arbroath survived a first-minute scare, a defensive blunder gifting Hibs the chance to open the scoring but one that they scorned before Murray, playing against his first club, raced through to round goalkeeper Ricky Gomes and slide the ball home, only to find assistant referee David McKniff had the flag raised for offside – a decision which brought the wrath of the home fans pouring down on him.

With Whittaker deployed in the midfield holding role in front of a back three, his other team-mates were given a licence to get forward, Gray and Lewis Stevenson hugging their respective touchlines to make the pitch as big as possible and stretch their League One opponents.

Dick Campbell’s side, though, weathered those opening few minutes and caused a real problem of their own, Bobby Linn’s well-measured pass finding the run of Doris, but Laidlaw narrowed the angle and was able to beat his shot away.

Hibs heeded that warning not to leave themselves short-handed at the back and deservedly took the lead in the 18th minute, Gray’s precise cross finding Murray in space to claim his third headed goal of the season.

The Capital club had two chances in as many minutes to double their lead, Martin Boyle electing to go for goal himself when a pass would have left Murray with a tap-in before Ricky Little’s trip on Porteous earned Hibs a penalty, which was wasted as Swanson blasted his spot-kick high into the Famous Five Stand.

Boyle’s pace was causing Arbroath no end of trouble, Gomes making another vital stop from him before Little came up with a superb block to prevent him finding the unmarked Murray. Hibs could easily have found themselves four up by the half-hour mark but for that profligacy, underlining Whittaker’s assertion following that 0-0 draw with Ross County on Friday night that Lennon’s side required a bit more of that killer instinct.

And they were made to pay seven minutes before half-time as Arbroath won their first corner of the game, one that was taken short before being flashed across goal for Doris to side-foot home at the back post.

Thomas O’Brien threw himself in front of Swanson’s shot to keep Arbroath level but there was nothing they could do on the stroke of half-time as Porteous rose to meet McGinn’s cross and power a downward header beyond Gomes.

Again, though, Arbroath came back, Danny Denholm firing in a rising left foot shot two minutes after the interval which drew an acrobatic save from Laidlaw.

But once more Hibs reacted, Boyle setting off on another blistering run and holding off the attentions of Colin Hamilton before delivering a low cross which left Murray with the simplest of tap-ins.

Two minutes later and McGinn got in on the act, curling a wonderful shot beyond Gomes and into the far side of his net as Hibs finally put clear blue water between themselves and Arbroath, O’Brien failing to reduce the deficit with a long-range effort which Laidlaw took at the second attempt.

The game was finished as a contest but Arbroath stuck to it, Blair Yule putting his body in the way of yet another Boyle effort, deflecting the ball up and over for a corner which came to nothing.

The scoreline also gave Lennon the opportunity to freshen things up, teenager Fraser Murray replacing Swanson who had been booked for scything down Denholm and then Scott Martin giving McGinn a bit of a breather.

Hibs had clearly taken their foot off the pedal with plenty of time remaining but Fraser Murray had a got at getting his name on the scoresheet again but Gomes got his body fully behind his shot from 22 yards.

Simon Murray was denied a hat-trick by O’Brien’s last-ditch tackle but Porteous did make if five for Hibs, powering home his second header of the game two minutes from time.

But Simon Murray couldn’t be stopped, picking up the match ball as he completed his hat-trick in the dying seconds, his instinct for getting into the right place at the right time paying off again as he met Whittaker’s cross to volley the ball home.