There was no sign of Hibs beginning to produce the big second half to the season which they’d spent the winter break in Dubai talking about as they crashed to a miserable defeat at Fir Park.
A first-half goal from David Turnbull was enough to give Motherwell only their third home win in the Premiership this season as the Easter Road side’s grim run – stretching back to October – of just two victories in what is now 14 matches continues.
In truth, Neil Lennon’s players never looked like taking one point from this match far less all three, failing to test Motherwell goalkeeper Mark Gillespie until three minutes from time when he competently beat away a Florian Kamberi effort on the turn.
Hibs had gone into this match five points worse off than at the same stage last season and desperate to make up that ground lost over the past three months.
But it was Motherwell throughout the 90 minutes who looked the far hungrier and determined team, leaving the 1248 fans who’d made the journey from Edinburgh no doubt wondering why they’d bothered.
Lennon threw his latest signing, Belgian Under-21 internationalist Stephane Omeonga – on loan from Italian Serie A outfit Genoa – straight into action while Ryan Porteous returned from injury and Ofir Marciano took over in goal from Adam Bogdan, who had picked up a late knock in the weekend’s Scottish Cup win over Elgin City.
Lennon stuck with the 4-2-3-1 formation used then but with Omeonga tucked in behind Florian Kamberi, flanked by Ryan Gauld to his right and Daryl Horgan to his left.
And he immediately showed the energy Lennon had talked of, bursting forward to deliver a corner which Gauld could only turn over before Gboly Ariyibi’s pass presented the home side with the first clear opening of the match but Curtis Main drilled the ball straight at Marciano.
Main had an even better opportunity a few minutes later when Turnbull’s ball allowed him to step inside Darren McGregor but, again, his shot gave Marciano little trouble.
Hibs were forced into a reshuffle when Porteous appeared to suffer a recurrence of the knee injury which had kept him out of the final two games of 2018, the defender limping off to be replaced by Sean Mackie, a switch which saw Paul Hanlon move from left back to take up station in central defence alongside McGregor.
It was Motherwell, though, who continued to carry the greater early threat, Ariyibi firing a low ball across the face of Marciano’s goal but inches outwith the reach of the inrushing Main.
Hibs had been bitterly disappointing throughout the first half having failed to create one chance of note leaving Gillespie a virtual spectator.
And the Fir Park side got the goal they deserved a minute before the interval, Jake Hastie’s pace opening up the Hibs defence before he supplied the pass for the unmarked Turnbull to slot a right-footed shot beyond the exposed Marciano.
Omeonga’s debut lasted just 45 minutes, the midfielder, who had picked up a booking for a foul on Motherwell’s Allan Campbell late in the first half, replaced by Vykintas Slivka, who had probably felt a bit hard done by in seeing his place go to the newcomer, positioning himself on the right as Gauld moving into a more central role.
A deft flick from Gauld saw him put Daryl Horgan free but, with Gillespie having advanced off his line, the Republic of Ireland winger attempted to clip the ball over him first time but got it horribly wrong, sending the ball well wide of target.
However, it was a rare moment – and a fleeting one at that – of danger from the Capital side which continued to struggle to find any fluency or rhythm to their game as Motherwell looked comfortable with their narrow lead as the hour mark came and went.
Lennon, no doubt, had let his players know exactly what he’d thought of their first-half efforts but, as the clock ticked on, there was little, if any, sign of his half-time pep talk having had any effect with Motherwell’s lone striker Main managing to occupy both McGregor and Hanlon while, at the other end, Kamberi couldn’t shake off the attentions of Tom Aldred and Charles Dunne.
The Swiss hitman couldn’t be faulted for his work-rate but had nothing to work on, his frustration showing as he took a Mackie cross on the half-turn and fired high and wide.
On-loan Hearts striker Conor Sammon had the chance to wrap the game up minutes after replacing Main, latching onto Turnbull’s pass only to find Marciano narrowing the angle. Marciano got a hand to his shot but the ball fell back to the striker, who could only hit the outside of the goalkeeper’s right-hand post.
Motherwell (4-3-2-1): Gillespie; Grimshaw, Aldred, Dunne, Tait; Campbell, Gorrin; Hastie (Bigirimana 88), Turnbull, Ariyibi (McCormack 64); Main (Sammon76) . Unused subs: McHugh, Hartley, Ferguson, Johnson.
Hibs (4-2-3-1): Marciano; Whittaker, McGregor, Porteous (Mackie 28), Hanlon; Bartley (Shaw 80), Mallan; Gauld; Omeonga (Slivka 46), Horgan; Kamberi. Unused subs: Dabrowski, Gray, Nelom, Murray.
Referee: B Madden