St Mirren 2 - 3 Hibs: Far too early to predict turning point for Calderwood’s men but win over Saints is a vital result
It would be foolish to suggest this victory marks the turning point in Hibs’ season. Not until Colin Calderwood’s side put together a string of victories could such a declaration be contemplated. And with back-to-back matches against Celtic over the coming few days it’s an objective which probably has to go on hold meantime.
However, there’s no doubting the importance of prising three points from a trip to St Mirren Park, the win not only having the psychological boost for players and fans alike of seeing the club’s name move every so slightly up the rankings but also tightening up that mid-table battle, Hibs now just one point adrift of their weekend hosts who enjoy sixth place.
Victories have proved highly elusive for Calderwood, not just this season but ever since he took over from John Hughes, so there was little hiding the manager’s delight on hearing the final blast on referee Bobby Madden’s whistle after watching his side withstand a second half onslaught from Danny Lennon’s troops following a rollercoaster of a first half which saw fortunes swing back and forth thanks to a five-goal blitz, four of them in a ten minute period.
Some might say, of course, that being Hibs things are never done the easy way, but while unhappy at his players’ poor use of the ball during that frenetic second period, Calderwood would, nevertheless, be pleased to see his much-criticised defence negotiate those 45 minutes without conceding another goal.
It took a couple of decent saves from goalkeeper Graham Stack, a super block from Paul Hanlon who threw his body in the way of a netbound shot from Buddies striker Steven Thompson and a glaring miss from Saints substitute Nigel Hasselbaink to achieve what was only Hibs’ third league win in 12 outings.
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And former Hibs midfielder Lennon was right to reflect on the fact that his side merited at least a share of the spoils but as Calderwood could point out from bitter experience over the past year, you don’t always get what you deserve in football.
Empty-handed the Paisley club might have been, but along with Hibs they served up 90 minutes of pure entertainment helped, in no small measure, to some questionable defending, not least Buddies’ goalkeeper Craig Samson’s part in the opener.
Samson went from Saint to sinner, the memory of how he initiated his side’s last-gasp equaliser at Ibrox seven days earlier with a precise pass under pressure gone as this time he took too long to deal with team-mate Lee Mair’s passback and was robbed by Leigh Griffiths who couldn’t have dreamt his first Hibs goal would be such a gift.
The on-loan Wolves hitman, recalling how he’d cashed in on Samson’s largesse last season during a Scottish Cup clash between Dundee and Ayr United, said: “I don’t know what has gone through the goalie’s mind. I’ve taken a gamble and thankfully it paid off.
“He’d gifted me one before, punching the ball off my head and into the net. I didn’t have a clue about that one.”
It was a catastrophic error on Samson’s part but Lennon insisted he wouldn’t be pointing the finger, saying: “When you play the way we do there will always be mistakes. Every one of my players made a mistake, every Hibs player made a mistake but all of them are not highlighted.”
Calderwood had sent his players out with instructions to press the game and, he admitted, he was delighted to see Griffiths’ persistence pay off. He said: “If you do that defenders and midfielders have all got to make a decision. What Leigh did was confront the goalkeeper and get the rub of the green.”
Two goals in as many minutes from St Mirren midfielder Paul McGowan, however, brought back memories of how Hibs had lost to the Buddies in Edinburgh earlier in the season but Sean O’Hanlon was also celebrating his first goal in a green and white shirt after rising to nod home David Wotherspoon’s free-kick although Lennon felt there had been “a clear foul” as the former MK Dons defender got to the ball.
Three minutes later Griffiths got what proved to be the winner. If his first was an easy tap-in, there was no doubting the quality of his finish this time, waiting for Garry O’Connor’s clever ball over the top to drop before rifling a low left-foot shot across Samson and into the far corner of the net.
Griffiths was denied the chance of a hat-trick as he was replaced by Akpo Sodje 20 minutes into the second half, a move which provoked the ire of the 491 Hibs fans who had travelled to the other end of the M8 but one which both player and manager explained had been pre-planned with the striker having indicated he was feeling tired at half-time.
Calderwood said: “Leigh had put in a terrific performance, in fact I really enjoyed the performances of all three strikers. I wasn’t surprised at the fans’ reaction when he came off but they weren’t aware he was fatigued and was always going to come off at that stage.
“He put his hand up and told me he was done, we couldn’t put it over the tannoy but we can now tell people why.”
If pleased with his side’s first half display, Calderwood was less happy with the fact his players hadn’t produced the same level of quality in the second, insisting that if they’d kept the ball as they should have then Stack’s goal wouldn’t have come under the threat it did.
However, with Hibs’ 14 games this season having seen 43 goals scored, not to mention that penalty-shoot out against Motherwell which earned them Wednesday night’s Scottish Communities League Cup quarter-final against Celtic, Calderwood insisted that whatever might be said about his team, they can’t be accused of not being involved in entertaining matches. He said: “I think we’ve had one game, the home match against Aberdeen [the only goal-less draw Hibs have been involved in this season] you probably could not pay people to go and watch again.
“In the majority of games it’s been entertaining football.
“It was edge of the seat stuff in the second half but we got through it. Sometimes you have to live by the seat of your pants to get through games, that is what we did. Did we try to close it up? No. Should we have done better with the ball second half? Yes.
“It was an exciting game and we have certainly been involved in a few. We got a good reaction from the players following our below par peformance against Motherwell. We knew we had to be on the front foot and we were, but more importantly with the ball even if we lacked that quality in the second half.
“We are no better than anyone else, but what we have to do is prove other teams are not that far ahead of us.”