St Mirren 1, Hibs 2: Hibees dig deep to make it three wins on the trot
Doidge and Mallan strike to earn vital hard-fought win in Paisley
Hibs revival in the Ladbrokes Premiership continued unabated under new head coach Jack Ross as the Edinburgh side clocked up a third victory in a row by defeating St Mirren 2-1 at the Simple Digital Arena.
But as much as Ross would have enjoyed the moment on his return to his former club, he’d have been the first to acknowledge his players were second best for long spells of the match, with the Buddies unable to translate their superiority after half-time into goals.
The Easter Road outfit may have had to live on scraps for long spells, but they made the most of what they got, Christian Doidge rising in the first half to head home his fifth goal in three games, with former Buddie Stevie Mallan making it 2-0 via the penalty spot eight minutes from time.
Hibs had to sweat again, though, as Saints substitute Junior Morias gave his side a glimmer of hope with a goal in the first of the four minutes of added-on time,
Unsurprisingly, Ross opted to go with an unchanged formation, Hibs starting with the same team for the third match in succession as striker Florian Kamberi shook off a troublesome ankle to make the starting XI.
The Easter Road striker looked strong and powerful from the off as the Capital side looked to make the most of this game in hand to cut the gap on fifth placed Kilmarnock - who they face in Edinburgh on Saturday - to three points.
However, Ross’ players were up against a Paisley outfit which had only conceded two goals at home so far this season despite being one of four teams locked on 11 points at the foot of the Premiership table.
With Jonathan Obika deployed as a lone striker, the Buddies’ intent was apparent. They soaked up whatever Hibs could throw at them and then hit them on the break. Kyle Magennis powered a header over the bar before visiting defender Paul Hanlon prevented Ryan Flynn sneaking in at the far post.
Having survived those scares, Hibs hit the front and again it was that man Doidge who did the damage, the big Welshman rising above everyone to get his head to Jason Naismith’s cross to power the ball home.
Saints, though, were far from deflated by that blow and it took Hanlon again to rescue the situation as his fellow central defender Ryan Porteous slipped, opening the way to goal for Obika, the Hibs skipper reading the danger and saving his team-mate’s blushes.
Although ahead Hibs didn’t look entirely comfortable as Jim Goodwin’s side looked to get back on level terms, they took a 1-0 lead into the interval.
The break would have given Ross time to try to calm things a bit, but that nervousness was evident again at the beginning of the second half, with three Hibs players booked in the opening ten minutes as they battled to keep Saints at bay.
Goalkeeper Chris Maxwell lost the race with Kyle Magennis for Ilkay Durmus’ through ball and scythed down the Saints’ player to pick up the first of those yellows. Then Magennis was tripped by Vykintas Slivka as he threatened again before Lewis Stevenson followed them into referee Alan Newlands’ book as brought Flynn down.
It was fraught stuff as far as Hibs were concerned, with Ross’ players struggling to get any control of the game. Kamberi limped off as his ankle began to play up again - replaced by Boyle - who was quickly followed onto the pitch as Daryl Horgan came on for Joe Newell.
Those switches left Doidge to forage as a lone striker with Boyle and Horgan tasked with providing the width either side of Scott Allan behind him. Slivka dropped back to partner Melker Hallberg as they tried to shield the back four.
Saints had completely taken charge of the match but, astonishingly, for all their possession they’d been unable to trouble Maxwell. Flynn demonstrated why they’d gone into this game with only nine goals to their game as he wasted a promising opening by slashing the ball horribly wide of target.
Danny Mullen did better a couple of minutes later, taking the ball onto his right foot and cracking a shot off Maxwell’s left hand post, with Obika flagged offside as he attempted to turn the rebound into the net.
And, boy, did Hibs make the most of that let-off, the pace of Boyle tempting Gary MacKenzie into diving into a tackle as his pace took him past the Saints defender. A penalty all day long and Mallan stepped up to allow the 1188 fans from Edinburgh behind goalkeeper Vaclav Hladky’s goal to breathe that little bit more easily.
Morias did pull a goal back right at the death, but it was too late for St Mirren. Hibs are now unbeaten in eight league games as their season gets right back on track.
St Mirren (4-5-1): Hladky; P McGinn, MacKenzie, McLoughlin, Waters; Flynn (McAllister 77), Magennis, S McGinn, Foley, Durmus (Mullen 66); Obika (Morias 77). Substitutes not used: Lyness, Cooke, Djorkaeff, MacPherson.
Hibs (4-1-2-1-2): Maxwell; Naismith, Porteous, Hanlon, Stevenson; Hallberg; Slivka, Newell (Horgan 57); Allan (Mallan 72); Kamberi (Boyle 51), Doidge. Substitutes not used: Marciano, James, Jackson, Shaw.
Referee: Alan Newlands