It’s not often bookies are happy to pay out. But Simon Murray has forced Hibs sponsors Marathonbet to dig deep these last few days, his three goals costing them a cool £1500.
The money goes to the Hibernian Community Foundation under a deal in which the firm pay out £500 each time the flame-haired striker scores and marks the goal with his “Simon Says” celebration.
No doubt more than a few Hibbies will also have cashed in by backing Murray to score during a match, the 25-year-old having now found the net 13 times already this season; his goals against Hearts, Kilmarnock and now Dundee ending a mini-drought and helping propel the Capital outfit to four successive wins.
Little wonder, then, that while his battle-weary team-mates are looking forward to a few days of well-earned rest, Murray is cursing the enforced lay-off caused by yet another international break.
He said: “You could say it’s come at the wrong time although the boys will get a few days off to chill out. But you want the games to continue because you are enjoying playing football and winning.”
Having said that, Murray admitted a bit of tiredness caused by a hectic schedule of five matches in a fortnight was probably behind him failing to get more than one on this occasion, saying: “Obviously I’d like to score a few more goals and I could have – sliding in at the back post – but I just couldn’t get there. Tired legs maybe.”
Nevertheless, Murray’s latest goal was one of both beauty and importance, Anthony Stokes – a first-half substitute for Dylan McGeouch – floating an inviting ball over the heads of the Dundee defence to leave his team-mate with the relatively easy task of side-footing it home.
“Stokesy has that ability,” said Murray. “It was a great ball. I think this game was the hardest we’ve had in this stretch so it was a great result. As for the sponsorship deal, that’s the bookies getting a taste of their own medicine. I’d imagine it’s a drop in the ocean to them.”
Not so happy was Dundee boss Neil McCann, left raging after Stokes appeared to flick a fist into the nether regions of his defender Jack Hendry. He said: “I’m absolutely furious. The fourth official clearly saw it, yet the referee [John Beaton] booked my player, who had just been punched. To rub salt in the wounds the architect of the second goal is the guy who shouldn’t be on the pitch.”
Stokes should escape any retrospective action given Beaton showed him the yellow card, deeming his action as aggressive behaviour rather than violent conduct.
Hibs boss Neil Lennon insisted he didn’t see the incident but he, too, was “not enamoured” by the performance of the official.
He said: “There was lot going on in the game and I didn’t think we got the rub of the green with decisions at times, but I’m not here to criticise the referee.”
Lennon, who believed a Stokes strike was wrongly ruled offside, chose to focus on the performance of his side, some of whom he described as “being dead on their feet” after they again had to dig deep for victory.
Having taken the lead after only 63 seconds as Martin Boyle struck for the third time in four games, Hibs conceded the equaliser as Marcus Haber sent a cross from Roarie Deacon, who gave Lewis Stevenson a torrid afternoon, into the far corner of the net.
As at Rugby Park a few days earlier, Hibs appeared to wilt only to be again inspired by a stunning save from goalkeeper Ofir Marciano. Against Kilmarnock, the Israeli internationalist pulled off what Lennon described as a “world-class” stop from Kris Boyd. This time many would feel he even bettered that by somehow getting down to push away Faissal El Bahktaoui’s seemingly netbound shot. Lennon said: “I cannot speak highly enough of the players. You could see a bit of fatigue there, particularly in the first half. You could see their energy levels were really down and we had to dig in a bit after Dundee equalised.
“Ofir made that fantastic save and, after that, it was all us. We were outstanding and should have put the game to bed a bit more comfortably. But it was a magnificent performance, one of the best of the season against a very good Dundee side. I was thrilled. I’d challenged them at half-time, told them the game could go one way or the other and that I could come out afterwards and protect them if they were beaten by saying they were tired – but I wouldn’t mean it – or you can go out there and win the game. To be fair to them, the quality and character was brilliant. Some of them are dead on their feet.”
Already without Darren McGregor, Liam Fontaine, Danny Swanson and Steven Whittaker through injury, Lennon lost Dylan McGeouch, David Gray and Brandon Barker before the start of the second half. “It looks like emergency ward ten down there,” said Lennon, “If we had a game tomorrow night I’d only have 15 fit players. We’ve had five games in two weeks, all high intensity but we’ve won four of them. Some of the football and chances they’ve created have been breathtaking at times. The rest they’ll get will do them the world of good, perhaps myself as well.”
With Leigh Griffiths having pulled out of the Scotland squad for Thursday’s friendly against the Netherlands, interim boss Malky Mackay has been left light on strikers, prompting the question to Lennon if he felt Murray might just get a call to join team-mate Paul Hanlon at Pittodrie given he is the leading Scottish scorer at the moment.
Asked if he thought it would be “ridiculous” for Mackay to contemplate that, he said: “Not ridiculous but I don’t think his game is there yet.
“There’s still a rawness about Simon in terms of his inter-play a little bit. At times he gets a bit anxious in front of goal although his work-rate and movement, his willingness to get in behind is excellent. If he gets a call great, another ginger in the Scotland squad.”