Hibs run riot in front of biggest home crowd this season

“Don’t worry about a thing, ’Cause every little thing gonna be all right.” The words of reggae star Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds echoed around the rafters of Easter Road before kick-off in a bid to soothe the jangling nerves of the Hibs support.

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 8th May 2012, 1:10 pm

Marley’s lyrics, though, proved prophetic, Hibs’ SPL status secured with a devastating three-goal blitz within the opening 15 minutes to end any lingering hopes Dunfermline had of winning the battle to beat the drop.

And defender Paul Hanlon almost brought the house down with a stunning fourth, the Scotland Under-21 skipper thundering in a tremendous shot which crashed down off the underside of the bar and in, according to assistant referee Stephen Mitchell.

Boss Pat Fenlon said: “It was a fantastic start, we got some early goals which took some of the pressure off and gave the players a lot of confidence.”

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The Pars had arrived in the Capital knowing nothing less than a win would do but they were simply blown away as Fenlon’s side romped to their biggest league win of the season.

Matt Doherty opened the scoring after just five minutes, Eoin Doyle added a second with his first goal in the SPL before birthday boy Garry O’Connor, 29 on the night, slammed home a 14th-minute penalty to leave Jim Jefferies’ side stunned and staring First Division football in the face.

Hibs’ season has been played out against a backdrop of dwindling crowds, gates regularly dropping below 10,000 as the battle against relegation took its toll on all but the most die-hard of the green and white army.

But in the face of adversity they were there in their numbers, the sold-out signs posted around the 6,400 capacity East Stand long before the game got under way although it did look less than completely full.

Nevertheless, an overspill area was set aside in the South Stand which normally accommodates away fans for those Hibs fans unable to get into other areas of the stadium, the much larger than usual crowd no doubt boosted by the chance to get hands on a precious Scottish Cup final ticket through today’s ballot which will see 1,000 lucky fans on their way to Hampden.

It all led to Hibs hosting their biggest crowd of the season, the 15,281, of which 14,048 were home supporters, surpassing the previous high recorded when arch-rivals Hearts visited Easter Road on January 2.

Both sides had gone into the match hampered by suspension, Hibs missing both Leigh Griffiths and David Wotherspoon while the Pars were without experienced defender Alex Keddie.

Hibs skipper James McPake, though, has been just as influential since his arrival in January and, having missed the victory over Aberdeen which had stretched his side’s advantage over the SPL’s basement outfit to five points, he was to play a pivotal role in setting Easter Road alight after just five minutes.

The big defender was at full stretch to get a glancing header on Tom Soares’ free-kick but, even so, he managed to steer it into the path of Doherty who nodded it across goal and in at the far post.

The old Leith ground was rocking and the decibel count rose yet again as Hibs doubled their lead six minutes later with Doherty again playing his part. Isaiah Osbourne’s clever pass found the Irish youngster in behind the Pars defence where he strode through a weak challenge before clipping the ball over for the unmarked Doyle to head into the empty net.

It was the sort of start Hibs, with only one League win to their name at home all season, could only have dreamt of but it got even better in the 14th minute, former Hearts star Austin McCann tugging the jersey of Paul Hanlon as they challenged for Soares’ ball inside the penalty area, referee Euan Norris having no hesitation in pointing to the spot allowing O’Connor to step up and claim Hibs’ third goal in nine devastating minutes.

Party time big style for the Hibees, but Jordan McMillan gave them a reminder there was still a long way to go as he latched on to Mark Kerr’s pass to lash in a low shot which Mark Brown did well to block with his legs. McMillan did so again, coming in unopposed to meet Patrick Boyle’s deep cross only to send his header into the arms of the Hibs goalkeeper.

The Pars may have been shell-shocked by that early whirlwind but they hadn’t given up the ghost and McPake, having put in a surging 50-yard run down the right wing, had to come in with a perfectly-timed sliding tackle to halt David Graham inside his own penalty area.

O’Connor had the opportunity to end any hint of a Dunfermline comeback five minutes after the interval, Doyle offloading to allow his fellow striker a clear sight of Chris Smith’s goal but his low shot zipped inches wide of the far post.

Doherty, too, should have made it four for Hibs from Soares’ inch-perfect free-kick but just couldn’t get his head to the ball when any contact would almost certainly have directed it into the Pars’ net yet again.

The same applied when Osbourne delivered an inviting low cross for Doyle to claim his second of the match but only the Irish striker could explain how he managed to totally miss the ball from only two yards out.

Clean sheets, as well as home wins, have been something of a rarity at Easter Road this season and Brown had to rely on a little luck to remain unbeaten with 20 minutes remaining, Martin Hardie’s free-kick from 30 yards coming back off his left-hand post and hitting his body before going behind.

Hibs were in cruise control but there was still time for Hanlon to deliver that fantastic fourth, striding forward to slide the ball out to Osbourne who returned it for his team-mate to strike a rising drive which thudded off the underside of the bar. Hanlon held his head in disbelief only for his agony to turn to ecstacy as farside assistant Mitchell signalled the ball had crossed the line. At least, in his opinion, with television pictures suggesting otherwise.

Cue the disappearance of Hanlon under a sea of green and white jerseys and the full repertoire of Hibee songs as Fenlon’s players took a “lap of honour” following the final whistle.

And who could blame them, it’s been a long time since they’ve managed to enjoy themselves so much.

For Fenlon, though, it was a bit embarrassing to see such scenes in response to Hibs simply avoiding relegation. He said: “We are second last in the league and I think it was more us showing our appreciation to the supporters than the other way around.