Hibs answer May day call and bag morale-boosting victory

Oli Shaw celebrates after his strike brought Hibs level
Oli Shaw celebrates after his strike brought Hibs level
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Hibs finally got the break they badly needed as they picked up their first win in six league matches, coming from behind to leave St Mirren firmly rooted to the foot of the Ladbrokes Premiership.

Saints had been by far the better of the two teams, going a goal up against a nervous-looking Hibs team through striker Simeon Jackson before the interval. And they should have doubled their lead on the hour mark when Kyle McAllister beat Marvin Bartley in the race for a through ball and enjoyed a stroke of luck as goalkeeper Ofir Marciano hammered his attempted clearance off him. The midfielder had all the time and space to kill the game but couldn’t take the opportunity and was immediately punished as Hibs substitute Oli Shaw equalised.

It was then up to two old Buddies, Darren McGregor and Stevie Mallan to complete a remarkable turnaround for the Easter Road club at the end of a traumatic weekend.

Given the dramatic events which had unfolded over the preceding 48 hours, this match in some respects was almost incidental, the sole topic of conversation being the Easter Road club’s shock decision to suspend head coach Neil Lennon.

In the absence of Lennon and his assistant Garry Parker, head of academy coaching Eddie May and first-team coach Grant Murray were in charge.

Detail as to what actually went on within East Mains on Friday afternoon remain scant with Hibs having not even officially announced the action taken against Lennon but Flo Kamberi, the subject of stinging public criticism by the Northern Irishman in recent weeks, and said to be the central character in it all, was in place at the Simple Digital Arena.

Club skipper David Gray made his first start since the beginning of October, one of two changes made by May, the other being to replace Lennon’s last signing, Stephane Omeonga, with Vykintas Slivka, while the experience of Steven Whittaker was preferred to the youth of Sean Mackie at 
left-back.

Against such a background, Saints, despite being rooted to the foot of the Premiership, would have quietly fancied their chances of taking advantage of the Hibs players being unsettled, bearing in mind they’d twice led at Easter Road last time these two teams met.

Not surprisingly, it was very much a low-key affair in the opening 20 minutes as both sides struggled to get going. But a superb through ball from Ryan Gauld set Daryl Horgan racing in behind the Buddies’ defence. However, his first touch was woeful, allowing Jack Baird to get back at him at the expense of a corner which came to nothing.

And Saints soon took full advantage, Brad Lyons drilling a low ball across the face of Marciano’s goal to leave his team-mate Jackson with the easy task of knocking it into the net.

Hibs had Marciano to thank for preventing the home side from doubling their lead eight minutes later, the Israeli internationalist “standing big” as McAllister’s free-kick again found Jackson in space inside the visitors’ penalty area.

Hibs, with only two league wins in their past 14 outings, looked devoid of confidence as their hosts sensed another goal was theirs for the taking – Jackson proving to be the dangerman once more as he flashed a header over.

The away supporters behind Marciano’s goal were, naturally, subdued, the Hibs players again having given them nothing to get enthusiastic about although Horgan did pull a save out of Vaclav Hladky, the goalkeeper getting down to push his low shot aside.

Hibs continued to look nervous as the second half got underway with St Mirren definitely in charge of proceedings although Gauld did try to put a different complexion on things with a low shot which whistled just wide.

Then came that golden opening – a pivotal moment agreed St Mirren boss Oran Kearney – for McAllister who was left hanging his head when, after failing to double Saints’ lead and all but clinch a much-needed win for the Buddies, he watched Mallan’s pass find Shaw in space to slip the ball past Hladky.

The young Hibs striker was then mobbed by his team-mates as the away supporters finally found their voice, and they were at full throttle nine minutes later as former Saints defender McGregor fired the visitors ahead. Kamberi’s header from Mallan’s corner was blocked but there was McGregor to hammer it high into the net.

McGregor was the hero at the other end, taking McAllister’s shot off the line after Marciano had pulled off a great save only for the ball to fall at the feet of the St Mirren midfielder. And, in a remarkable finale, another former Saints player, Mallan, made it three for Hibs, sliding the ball home after Gray’s crossfield pass had picked out Shaw, who unselfishly laid it into his team-mate’s path.

It was just the confidence-lifting victory all at Easter Road needed, one which should give their bid to at least reclaim a place in the top six a massive boost.