Lee Johnson suffers first defeat as Hibs boss as Ewan Henderson shows importance to team

Lee Johnson has suggested on more than one occasion that, if he were to go into the Scottish Premiership campaign with the players currently at his disposal he would be more than happy.

PJ Morrison denies Christian Doidge
PJ Morrison denies Christian Doidge

He may be forced into a rethink after witnessing Hibs’ 1-0 defeat by Falkirk on Tuesday night. Such was the lack of cohesion in his side’s play in the first half, he made four changes at the interval – a sight more usually seen at this time of year in pre-season friendlies, rather than Premier Sports Cup games.

Gone was the fast-paced, relentless tempo that produced five first-half goals against Clyde and in its place was a lethargy redolent of last season.

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Six changes to the starting line-up won’t have helped but Hibs struggled in the Stirlingshire summer heat to create anything of note in the first half. Bar a few half-chances, the hosts struggled too until six minutes before the break.

Charlie McCann burst down the left flank, getting beyond Lewis Miller, and his near-post cross was met perfectly by Aidan Nesbitt, whose looping header evaded Kevin Dabrowski. Questions might be asked of Kyle McClelland’s positioning as Nesbitt got away from him to meet the centre but the cross-ball might have been better dealt with too.

Johnson rang the changes at the interval, hooking Hauge, McClelland, McGeady, and Miller and replacing them with Elias Melkersen, Ryan Porteous, Ewan Henderson, and Chris Cadden and whether it was the four new faces or the manager’s half-time team-talk, Hibs came flying out of the blocks with Henderson in particular causing problems.

The playmaker stung PJ Morrison’s palms with an effort from outside the box as Hibs sought an equaliser early in the second half and he was involved again when Hibs thought they had levelled on 54 minutes.

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Henderson’s shot was fumbled by Morrison in the Falkirk goal, Christian Doidge pounced on the loose ball, but referee Kevin Clancy ruled it out for a foul on the ‘keeper in the build-up.

Seconds later Finn Yeats cleared a Henderson effort off the line as it seemed to be a matter of time before the Capital side found an equaliser.

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The former Celtic man was at the centre of an extraordinary sequence of play with around 15 minutes remaining. Hibs had a series of corners that came to nothing but all led to handball claims which were all waved away by the official, the ball eventually falling to Joe Newell whose shot was deflected into the path of Henderson. From an acute angle he fired at goal with Morrison getting enough on the ball to deflect it onto the bar and post with Doidge unable to bundle the rebound over the line and Brad McKay cleared.

The remainder of the second half continued in a similar vein, with Melkersen’s header from fellow substitute Nohan Kenneh’s cross coming back off the post and Doidge, with a last-gasp effort, saw Morrison get enough on the ball to slow its route to goal and McKay was able to blooter clear off the line.

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Food for thought for Johnson but he will have learned one thing from his first defeat as Hibs boss – Henderson, as things stand, should surely be a nailed-on starter for the foreseeable at least.