“As long as we win I don’t care who scores the goals” is probably one of the most over-used sayings in football.
Few, though, would imagine the match-winner will prove to be the goalkeeper. It does, of course, happen, but it’s a rare occurrence, underlined by the fact Mark Oxley became the first Hibs goalkeeper since Andy Goram scored against Morton 26 years ago to do so.
Oxley would love to tell you he meant it, but his moment of glory was obviously one of those freak incidents, his punt up the park deceiving his opposite number Darren Jamieson, who misjudged the bounce of the ball and could only look on in horror as it sailed on into the empty net.
It was enough to give Hibs their first win at Easter Road in six months, the irony of a team which could hardly buy a goal throughout last season having their goalie score not lost on the home fans who implored the on-loan Hull City star to “shoot” every time he found himself with the ball in his hands.
“You don’t get many chances to celebrate like that,” he admitted. “I heard the fans getting excited, but I assumed it would get headed away or the keeper would catch it, but there must have been indecision and it flew in.”
Jamieson, perhaps understandably, declined a request for his view, but he did draw a measure of sympathy from Hibs boss Alan Stubbs who, while delighted with the three points from the opening match of the Championship season, conceded: “It’s disappointing for their goalkeeper. It’s something I wouldn’t like to see happen to Mark – but it’s won us the game.”
Oxley’s “strike” – coming as it did just three minutes afterFarid El Alagui had powered home his first goal for the club, a superb header from skipper Liam Craig’s corner – promised a margin of victory the Capital club haven’t enjoyed for some time on a day when Commonwealth Games gold-medal swimmer Dan Wallace, a big Hibs fan, made the half-time Happy Hibee draw.
El Alagui, who missed acouple of chances in the Petrofac Training Cup defeat by Rangers a few days earlier, said: “I would have loved to have scored at Ibrox, but that’s the life of a striker – the good thing is you will always get another chance.”
Admitting he was surprised to find Oxley, along with himself and Danny Handling, as one of the club’s current top scorers, the French-Moroccan revealed he and his team-mates are enjoying the style of football Stubbs is demanding, although they are still learning about each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
“I think we try to play decent football most of the time. Sometimes we won’t be able to do that, but for the first hour, it was what we want to see and I think the crowd enjoyed it.”
Captain Craig, Alex Harris and Paul Heffernan all went close to stretching Hibs’ lead, while Jamieson will only be remembered for “that goal” and not the spectacular leap to push aside a thundering drive from the Hibs skipper.
Had Stubbs’ players been three or four ahead by the interval Livingston would have had few complaints, Hibs playing the stylish football their new head coach demands, although there were signs of a team still coming together, those misplaced or ill-judged passes which had team-mates looking daggers at each other as they continue to build that all important understanding.
However, John McGlynn’s side had served warning in the opening minutes when Declan Gallagher’s header crashed off Oxley’s crossbar and after Sam Stanton had miskicked when presented with an opening by Harris’ low cross, the former Dundee defender gave Stubbs cause for concern as he tapped home from close-range, the first to react after Keaghan Jacobs’ curling shot had been tipped onto the woodwork by Oxley.
Suddenly visions of last season’s capitulations flooded through the heads of the home support, although Gallagher’s goal didn’t draw the sort of reaction to which the players had become accustomed during those miserable times.
Yes, there was a nervousness, but the few audible groans which did break out were quickly drowned by renewed backing. “If we think teams are going to come here and let us play the way we want then we are kidding ourselves on,” Stubbs reminded everyone. “John McGlynn saw the way we played at Ibrox and he looked to try to press us.
“In the first half we had a lot of joy in combating them pressing us, but in the second we probably gave them too many chances from set pieces and invited balls into the box. We got deeper and as a result the space between the back four and midfield and between midfield and the strikers got bigger, we just let it get too stretched.
“But I thought in the end we saw the game out well. Last season we would have drawn that game or lost it, so from that point of view the players have done great.”
Only weeks into his job, Stubbs has consistently insisted that rebuilding, restoring and reshaping not only a team but a club which suffered that traumatic, shambolic descent is very much a work in progress, but three points from the opening game of the season at home is another step in the right direction. To that end Stubbs was delighted, saying: “I have said all along that first and foremost I want to win games of football. If we can do that with a style and pleasing on the eye football, then I will do that.
“I can only build something if I win games – that’s the most important thing. We played really well at Ibrox and got nothing out of it and against Livingston I thought we played well for parts of the game, especially in the first half.
“We did not dominate in the way I wanted, but we got the three points. I’m delighted for the lads and the fans – they can go away and enjoy the fact the team has won.”