John McGinn gave a timely reminder of exactly why he has spent the past fortnight in demand and on international duty as he delivered a strong performance that laid the foundations for Hibs to outplay St Johnstone for long periods of Saturday’s stalemate in Perth.
The 22-year-old midfielder has had an eventful two weeks after being the subject of three failed bids from English Championship side Nottingham Forest while also being part of a Scotland squad busy breathing new life into their World Cup qualifying bid.
McGinn played as a substitute in the national team’s win over Lithuania and remained on the bench against Malta, so the trip to McDiarmid Park represented the first real chance to gauge the ambitious Clydebank boy’s mindset after his prospective move to England failed to materialise. Early indications are that McGinn is in the mood to take his game on to a new level after he produced a display high in energy, technique and drive as Hibs stifled and, particularly in the second half, dominated the country’s in-form team prior to the international break.
Neil Lennon waxed lyrical about McGinn amid effusive praise about his team’s overall performance on a day when – as was the case in the 1-1 draw at Dundee in their previous outing – they should have taken three points. Although the manager was perhaps in danger of stretching a point when he described McGinn’s performance as “world class” in a post-match interview with Hibs TV, there is no doubt the Scotland midfielder was the standout operator in a game that featured strong individual contributions from several members of the visiting side, particularly those across defence and in central midfield.
“The manager was pleased with my performance, which was great to hear,” said McGinn. “It would have been better if we had got three points, but I felt good. It was just a shame we couldn’t get the win after playing so well. St Johnstone are a really good side. They have a lot of experience and this is a really tough place to come. I’ve only won here once in my career.
“If anyone was looking at the game you would think we deserved to win. But we said that at Dundee as well.
“We need to start turning our possession into goals. We just need to start putting the ball in the net. Our final ball has been lacking a little bit. Against Dundee, we had a few clear-cut chances but against St Johnstone we made the wrong decisions at times in the final third.”
St Johnstone had the better of the first 20 minutes but faded thereafter, much to the anger of manager Tommy Wright, who was in a wretched mood after witnessing his team cling on for a point they barely merited. “A couple of things didn’t please me today,” he muttered.
Hibs came on strongly as the first half wore on, with Simon Murray, pictured right, and David Gray both going close with the only two clear openings before the break. Saints broke the deadlock three minutes after the break on the one occasion they truly cut Hibs open as Michael O’Halloran was left completely unchecked in the middle to tap in substitute Liam Craig’s perfect delivery from the left following an impressive breakaway.
It represented the fifth time in five league games that Hibs had conceded the opening goal. But for the fourth time in those matches, they rallied to take something.
After McGinn had hooked Brandon Barker’s corner wide, the equaliser came on the hour when Paul Paton, under pressure from the in-rushing Anthony Stokes, could only knock Murray’s cross into his own goal while attempting to clear.
“I watched it back after the game so I could see whether or not I should have thrown myself at the ball,” said the Saints midfielder. “Watching it back, Anthony Stokes had a few yards on me so I thought I did well even just to make it back to be in the position to make a tackle. I was stretching and stretching, hoping to be able to wrap my toe around it. I ended up putting it into my own net but I had to make the tackle. If I hadn’t then the gaffer would have had my guts for garters. It’s just one of these things.”
Hibs looked the likeliest side to take the points throughout the remaining half hour, but it was only in the final ten minutes that they truly threatened the Saints goal, with substitute Danny Swanson, Boyle, Murray and Stokes all going close to winning it. Ultimately, it was a lack of ruthlessness in the attacking third that cost Hibs as they went a third league game in a row without a win. “The gaffer was disappointed with the front four,” said McGinn. “They caused St Johnstone problems but it’s end product that we need and we know they are capable.”
McGinn found himself on the receiving end of a few bad tackles, with the feeling growing that he is becoming more of a marked man as his reputation soars. “I struggled a bit in the last couple of games with the close attention towards me,” he said. “But if you want to get better that is what you need to get used to. St Johnstone are very good at it but I felt strong, fit and fast. I will be prepared if anything like that comes my way again.”
McGINN: I AM DELIGHTED TO STILL BE HERE
Hibs midfielder John McGinn insists there was never any danger of the recent transfer speculation affecting his focus.
The 22-year-old was the subject of three failed bids from Nottingham Forest at the end of last month.
After playing for Hibs against St Johnstone on
Saturday for the first time since the transfer window closed, McGinn said: “There’s always been a lot of talk but it was out of my hands and I dealt with it fine.
“I just concentrated on training (with Scotland) and let everyone else deal with what was going on.
“There was a lot of talk and nobody knew what was going on. But I knew fine I was still going to be a Hibs player
going into the last day.
“I’m settled, I’m happy at Hibs. It’s a quality football club and I am getting better all the time.”
McGinn flew out to Lithuania with the national team early on transfer-deadline day. “People were telling me all sorts,” he said of the speculation around him. “Someone had me down
signing for Rangers on deadline day, others had me at Hearts for a medical.
“There was all sorts of nonsense going on. I was the butt of jokes from the Scotland boys but they are all used to it and they know what goes on.
“I was pretty relaxed. I knew Hibs had a valuation of me and I fully respect that. No club met it and I am still a Hibs player, and I am delighted still to be a Hibs player. I feel with every game I play for this club, I get stronger and better and I want to continue that.”