Ross County 2, Hibs 1: Jack Ross suffers his first defeat in charge
Hibs throw away a lead again
For the second game running, Hibs squandered a position of authority in the closing half-hour as they succumbed to their first league defeat since the Edinburgh derby loss to Hearts in September.
Just four days after blowing a two-goal lead in a 2-2 draw with Kilmarnock, Jack Ross’s side saw a seemingly comfortable 1-0 advantage develop into a 2-1 defeat by Ross County in Dingwall. The visitors had looked in control of proceedings for an hour and led through another close-range finish from the on-form Christian Doidge, but just as they seemed well on course to make it ten league games in a row unbeaten, they were punished by a double from County striker Ross Stewart in the final 25 minutes.
After listing an unchanged side for the first three games of his reign, Jack Ross made the first tweak to his starting line-up as Martin Boyle took the place of Joe Newell, who dropped out of the squad altogether.
Following six consecutive substitute appearances since returning from his knee injury, this represented a first competitive start for Boyle since the Betfred Cup match against Arbroath in July and the Australia internationalist’s first Premiership start of 2019. The team remained in the 4-4-2 formation that had served them well in recent matches, with Boyle taking Newell’s position on the left of the midfield diamond.
Following an opening quarter of an hour in which Hibs enjoyed the majority of the possession, Vykintas Slivka had the first attempt of the match in the 16th minute but the Lithuanian’s low strike from the edge of the box lacked the power to trouble goalkeeper Nathan Baxter. A minute later Jason Naismith got forward to meet a Florian Kamberi cutback but the former Ross County right-back scuffed his effort and the chance was lost.
Naismith did far better with his next opportunity in the 20th minute as he smashed a powerful strike against the crossbar after being teed up by Scott Allan just inside the box.
Hibs, who had started confidently, were suddenly putting the hosts under real pressure and Boyle saw an effort scrambled behind by Baxter after getting himself a decent opportunity inside the box following an impressive counter-attack in the 22nd minute. From the resulting corner, taken by Allan, Doidge sent a powerful header down into the ground but it bounced up and over the bar.
County, who could be considered fortunate to be on level terms at the half-hour mark, had a great chance to snatch the lead in the 31st minute when Brian Graham got himself in behind the visitors’ defence and ran on to a bouncing ball, but goalkeeper Chris Maxwell was quick off his line and made himself big to prevent the former Hibs striker from lobbing him.
Hibs, who had been the more authoratitive side to this point, made a deserved breakthrough in the 34th minute when Doidge got his head to Allan’s free-kick and watched in delight as his effort squirmed beyond Baxter and into the net. Remarkably it was the Welshman’s seventh goal in five matches since the departure of Paul Heckingbottom, the man who signed him.
In the midst of celebrating their own team’s goal, news reached the 553 travelling supporters that Marvin Bartley had scored for Livingston against Hearts at Tynecastle. Temporary bedlam ensued in the away end as the Hibs fans savoured the dual delight of their own team taking the lead at almost the same as one of their most revered modern-day players was netting at the home of their bitter rivals – his first goal in Scottish football.
Hibs seemingly had the wind in their sails at that point but the sense of serenity didn’t last for Ross’s side. After a scrappy opening to the second half, County got themselves level, somewhat out of the blue, in the 65th minute as Stewart headed in after a looping cross from Josh Mullin eluded Maxwell, who had raced from his goal in a failed attempt to claim the high ball.
Things got worse for the visitors nine minutes later as Stewart nodded home his second goal of the night after Hibs’ defence failed to clear a high ball into the box from Michael Gardyne. Hibs knocked on the door in the closing stages and both Doidge and substitute Stevie Mallan went agonisingly close but the equaliser failed to materialise.
Ross County: (4-4-2) Baxter; Foster (Fraser 72), Morris, Fontaine, Kelly; Mullin, Spence, Paton, Gardyne (Mckay 84); Graham (Erwin 69), Stewart. Substitutes not used: Laidlaw, Henderson, Spittal, Watson.
Hibs: (4-2-3-1) Maxwell; Naismith, Porteous, Hanlon, Stevenson; Slivka (Horgan), Hallberg (Mallan 77), Boyle Allan Kamberi (Shaw 79); Doidge. Substitutes not used: Marciano, Jackson, James, Whittaker.