Hibs verdict: Aberdeen won't give up - but Jack Ross' men are in no mood to be caught
Aberdeen made it clear that they will not give up the chase – but Hibs appear in no mood to be caught.
Wednesday’s 2-1 win over Livingston was enough to guarantee Jack Ross’ men a top-four Premiership finish and some involvement in European competition for the first time since manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and star striker Erling Haaland produced the goods for Molde to oust Neil Lennon’s Hibs side from the 2018/19 Europa League qualifiers. But the fact that a sure-fire invite to one of the top tournaments was not greeted by fanfare and fireworks, shows how high Hibs have been aiming this season.
The fact is, securing European football was never the primary target for this manager and his squad, it was always intended to be the welcome by-product of achieving their real goals – third place and, ideally, Scottish Cup success.
This convincing win means they are still on course to accomplish both, allowing them to stretch their advantage over Aberdeen to six points, who were pegged back right at the death by Leigh Griffiths’ 90-minute equaliser at Pittodrie.
Two goals in the opening 25 minutes gave Hibs an unassailable lead and although Livingston managed to peg one back with six minutes remaining, there was a maturity to Hibs’ play that saw them manage the final few minutes and collect all three points.
A team that have proved their value as frontrunners, they started this encounter in flowing form and were able to turn that into the opening goal when, clearly happier on a playing surface that had benefitted from a six-week rest, the home team pieced together a well-worked passage of play, passing the ball quickly and effectively. Jackson Irvine picked out Paul McGinn and he fed the ball to Martin Boyle and while he could have shot on the angle, he chose to cross the ball back into the area, giving Kevin Nisbet the perfect opportunity to finish from close range.
It was a move full of intent and it left the visitors rattled. The movement from back to front, where Christian Doidge, Nisbet and Boyle proved a potent forward line, was a source of consternation in the away ranks as they tried to come up with solutions to the questions posed by a team who seem to have the bit between their teeth.
Rampant up front, the trio now have 43 goals between them. Nisbet moved to 17 and Boyle onto 15 with their efforts in this match, while Doidge’s recent goal resurgence has taken him to 11, and all three look hungry for more in the remaining handful of league and cup fixtures.
The second goal came from Boyle, who was clattered by Efe Ambrose in the box and stepped up to convert convincingly from the spot.
It forced an immediate change of tactics and personnel from Livingston but Hibs remained well in control in the first half but they were made to graft for the outcome they desired in the second.
They kept their guests at bay, though, until late on when substitute Kyle Magennis – in his first action of the game – made a calamitous impact, felling Jay Emmanuel Thomas in the area. He pulled one back from the spot, but it wasn’t enough to deny a Hibs team intent on proving themselves the best of the rest the win they wanted.