Hibs book another Hampden trip as Elias Melkersen shines and returning players ease injury pressure
Elias Melkersen’s first-half double on his maiden start had Hibs two goals up after Bevis Mugabi was sent off for serious foul play with just 60 seconds, but Joe Efford gave the Steelmen hope with a goal just before the break.
Shaun Maloney has consistently stressed that his team is nowhere near where he wants it to be. In the first half at Fir Park we perhaps saw a glimpse of what a full-fat Maloney team could look like.
Mugabi’s early red card no doubt played a part; so too the backing from a noisy away support.
Jordan Roberts was perhaps lucky not to see red for a wild challenge on Drey Wright after seven minutes while Melkersen was cautioned for catching Ricki Lamie with a flailing arm. Latecomers clambered up the steps to their seats with looks of mild bewilderment at the 100mph match unfolding on the park.
With a quarter of an hour gone that contained more noteworthy incidents than Hibs’ goalless draw with St Johnstone last weekend, Sylvester Jasper turned Nathan McGinley inside out on the right flank before firing in a cross to the near post. A flash of white, the net bulged, Liam Kelly was motionless, and the 19-year-old Norwegian striker wheeled away arms outstretched, his glancing header Hibs’ first goal since February 19.
Whether it was the extra man or the changes – as well as Melkersen Joe Newell started in midfield; a first appearance since the Edinburgh derby at the start of February as he came in for the injured Jake Doyle-Hayes – Hibs were playing with a sense of purpose, a swagger almost.
Jasper was beating men, spraying passes around, and generally being a nuisance to the Motherwell backline and Wright asked plenty of questions on the left.
It was the on-loan Fulham attacker who made the second, lofting a ball over the top for Melkersen. The teenager still had work to do but displayed the composure of a far more experienced player to plant the ball in the bottom corner.
Hibs had other chances to test Kelly but the fact the ‘keeper won the home side’s man of the match award tells you how well he played across the 90-plus minutes.
Joe Efford pulled one back shortly before the break to give ‘Well hope but despite a steely performance in the second half, and Hibs struggling to replicate their efforts of the first half, it wasn’t enough.
There was plenty to like about this Hibs performance – more verve in the attacking third than we’ve seen in a while, which Maloney has identified as an area for improvement. The return of Newell brought a composure to the middle of the park, even if the 28-year-old had been patched up in order to be fit to play. That he managed 90 minutes will have been another positive for the coaching staff.
Hibs will now be setting the SatNav for G42 9AY once again. On this performance, they just about deserved it, but they will need to step it up another gear no matter who they face in the semi-final at the national stadium.