Hibs boss Alan Stubbs put on emotional rollercoaster again

Jason Cummings scores the winner in the 94th minute; Dominique Malonga slots the penalty to make it 2-2. Pictures: Lisa Ferguson
Jason Cummings scores the winner in the 94th minute; Dominique Malonga slots the penalty to make it 2-2. Pictures: Lisa Ferguson
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Alan Stubbs may be a young manager, but give him many more days like this and the 42-year-old will soon be reaching for the Grecian 2000 in a bid to hide the grey hairs which will inevitably follow.

For the second home game in succession, Stubbs – along with more than 11,000 others who had turned out to watch the match and mark club legend Pat Stanton’s 70th birthday – was put through an emotional wringer, Hibs once again having to rely on a last-ditch goal to secure victory.

Against Dumbarton in the League Cup it was Sam Stanton who completed a remarkable comeback and this time round Jason Cummings left it even later, eventually seeing off the Championship’s basement side Cowdenbeath with a 94th-minute winner.

At the end of the day the three points to end a run of three straight league defeats was all that mattered, the news that table-topping Hearts had been held to a draw by Ian Murray’s Dumbarton coming as something of a bonus, cutting the gap between the Capital rivals to seven points.

It was enough to send the fans home happy, but Stubbs was less so, the head coach bemoaning ten minutes of “pandemonium” which could have put a totally different slant on the final scoreline, a period in which the Blue Brazil scored twice to leave those in green clearly stunned and bewildered.

Up to that point, Jimmy Nicholl’s side looked incapable of inflicting any damage on their hosts, the former Hibs assistant manager making no apology for adopting a defensive formation from the outset, his ten outfield players getting behind the ball in an effort to frustrate and deny their opponents.

“We’d conceded at least two goals a game,” noted Nicholl, “so we came to be tight, to let them play in front of us. We didn’t have much possession, but because we are bottom of the league we were not going to come and open up.”

Patience was the name of the game for Hibs, confronted as they were by a sea of blue shirts, left to probe away for that opening which, Stubbs claimed, was denied them on more than one occasion by a ricochet or deflection, although a little more urgency and quicker movement of the ball might have aided their cause.

Nevertheless, the breakthrough came when Jordon Forster rose high above everyone at the back post to meet Matty Kennedy’s cross and bullet a header beyond Cowdenbeath goalkeeper Robbie Thomson, son of former Hibs goalkeeping coach Scott, who was one of those occupying the away dugout.

Stubbs revealed: “I said to the lads at half-time the worst case scenario was we win the game 1-0 although, obviously, I wanted us to go and take the next step forward and see if we could score more goals.”

Instead, it was the Fife outfit, having switched to a 3-5-2 formation, which did so, Sean Higgins sliding home captain John Armstrong’s pass before Jon Robertson took advantage of some calamitous defending to prod the ball in for a second.

“It was absolute pandemonium,” stated Stubbs, “I was not happy about the manner of our defending. It’s not as if they are young players who have only a handful of appearances. There’s probably more than 500 [the actual figure is 651] in the backline, so I am not telling them anything they do not know.

“The standards must be better, they have to be. Unfortunately at this moment, we are not at the level where we want the club to be, so we have to do better and not give away stupid, stupid goals which put everyone on the backfoot.”

Stubbs didn’t waste any time after falling behind, introducing his latest signing Dominique Malonga. The new striker made an immediate impact, looking strong and confident and displaying a composure on the ball.

So confident was he that when far-side assistant Paul Reid spotted Armstrong grabbing hold of Forster’s shirt – although referee John McKendrick failed to notice despite being much closer – Malonga stepped up to take the resultant spot-kick.

The Paris-born hitman, who admitted he’s not yet up to full speed, said: “I normally take penalties, I don’t miss. I am a confident player, I have confidence in myself. I’m a leader and I think I can bring more confidence to my team.”

Armstrong was less sure of the award, questioning whether it would have come at the other end, claiming it was “soft”, although Nicholl disagreed, saying: “John said he did not pull him. I’ve seen it, and he did.”

What did annoy Nicholl, though, was that just as Hibs had fallen apart for that short spell so, too, did his team. He said: “We lost our heads, our concentration levels. We forgot we were drawing two each after being 1-0 down at Hibs. We had to get our concentration levels back up, get our football heads on and see the game out.”

Cowdenbeath looked like doing so but, deep, deep into added on time – although no-one on the pitch would have been aware of just how far in given the lack of a fourth official to signal how many additional minutes – there was Jason Cummings, another substitute, to make just enough contact on Malonga’s knockdown to send the ball trickling over the line for the winner.

“Devastated” was Armstrong’s description of his team-mates’ feelings, Nicholl was left with mixed emotions. He said: “I am disappointed for them because of the effort they put in during the second half, but I am disappointed at them because we were going to get a point. To score two goals away from home and end up losing ... I am absolutely at my wits end as to what to do.”

Cummings’ strike, his first at Easter Road, was enough to temper Stubbs’ own reaction, the Hibs boss saying: “At 2-1 down I was thinking I must have done something wrong, run over a black cat or something. I felt as if everything was destined to go against us.

“But the lads showed great spirit to keep going. This can be a difficult place to play and a brilliant place to play. When things are not going well it can be difficult, but even at 2-1 I thought the fans still stuck with the team, urging them on.

“The finish was great. They could go home happy.”