Reaction: Woeful Hibs made to look second best at Alloa

Michael Duffy's shot crashed down off the crossbar and was deemed to have landed over the line for Alloa's winner. Pic: SNS
Michael Duffy's shot crashed down off the crossbar and was deemed to have landed over the line for Alloa's winner. Pic: SNS
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The faces were, of course, entirely familiar, but as Hibs midfielder Fraser Fyvie returned to action after a two-month absence, he would have found his team totally unrecognisable to the last time he played.

Back then, at the beginning of February, it was as if Hibs could do no wrong, a narrow 1-0 win in the Ladbrokes Championship away at Morton making it just one defeat in 24 games for the Capital side, while only a few days beforehand they had clinched their place in the League Cup final after defeating Premiership side St Johnstone 2-1.

The impressive run was to continue when they fought back from 2-0 to draw 2-2 away at city rivals Hearts in the Scottish Cup before ousting the Jambos 1-0 in the replay, while they remained on Rangers’ coattails in the league as the title race continued.

Moreover, all the talk at the time was of an unlikely treble and head coach Alan Stubbs being touted as Ronny Deila’s successor at Celtic. Today, however, it’s all about whether Hibs can salvage their season and somehow win promotion after a harrowing 1-0 defeat at already relegated Alloa.

Little would Fyvie, as he recovered from a knee injury sustained in the dying seconds of that game in Greenock, or his team-mates have believed as they demolished the Wasps 3-0 back in mid-February that things could fall apart so quickly or so drastically.

Incredibly, since that victory, Hibs have managed just four points from their seven league games. It’s a run that culled their title hopes – Rangers have already claimed that honour – and now they even have a struggle on their hands to take second spot and so avoid an extended play-off campaign, lying six points behind Falkirk in third place. Even with two games in hand over the Bairns, their match against Falkirk tomorrow night is bracketed in the “must-win” category.

Some observes may have believed that Hibs’ rot had been stopped by Farid El Alagui’s last-gasp equaliser at St Mirren and then Martin Boyle’s winning thunderbolt against Livingston. Those thoughts proved to be wildly over-optimistic.

A visit to the Indodrill Stadium against an Alloa team that, before Saturday, hadn’t even won a home game in the league this season, appeared on the face of it to be the ideal fixture for that healing process to continue, but come the final whistle, the uninitiated would have been guessing wrongly at which side would be playing League One football next season and which harboured aspirations of being in the top flight.

The plastic pitch in Clackmannanshire has never been a favourite of Stubbs and his players as they’ve struggled every time they’ve played there over the last couple of seasons and the fact the Wasps boss Jack Ross had insisted on the touchlines being pulled in to reduce the playing surface was never going to help.

And Stubbs did claim it had messed with his players’ minds, saying: “We seemed really affected by the pitch. We looked uncomfortable on it, control, turning.”

It was, however, a somewhat lame excuse. Other sides have had to contend with the problems that particular surface presents and each and every one has emerged with at least a point. The fact of the matter was that Hibs were simply woeful.

Hibs managed just one shot of any real note throughout the 90 minutes, an Anthony Stokes effort from range which substitute goalkeeper David Crawford easily batted away.

And has so often has happened this season, Stubbs’ players struggled to make any headway against a side set up to hit them on the counter attack, Alloa centre-backs Dougie Hill and Jason Marr rarely finding themselves more than ten yards apart, there to deal with anything thrown into their box from the flanks.

And if Hibs couldn’t go round them, they couldn’t go through them either, with Stokes, Jason Cummings and James Keatings all reduced to chancing their arm from a distance without causing any damage whatsoever.

To be fair, Alloa fared little better, but they did get that slice of luck which Hibs have found deserts teams going through a rough patch. The only goal of the game came right on half time, on-loan Celtic youngster Michael Duffy wheeling on Iain Flannigan’s cross to hammer in a shot which crashed back down off goalkeeper Mark Oxley’s bar and, in the eyes of assistant referee Thomas Shaw, over the goal-line.

Did the ball cross the line? Even Ross confessed he couldn’t be certain it had gone over, while Stubbs was less than convinced.

“I have seen replays of the goal and it’s not conclusive whatsoever,” said the Hibs boss. “You cannot be guaranteed that with the speed with which he has hit it and the ball has bounced down to say that it was a goal. The replays are inconclusive, so how can you can come to that decision in that short space of time?”

Recalling Rocco Quinn’s highly dubious equaliser for St Mirren seven days earlier, Stubbs went on: “I do not want to question decisions, but unfortunately I am. It’s another one that’s gone against us.

“We’ve had a few recently that have gone against us that have affected the outcome of the game.”

The bare truth, though, is that a side which had amassed a creditable 18 clean sheets in their previous 33 outings has now failed to keep one in their last ten, a statistic which has contributed as much to their downfall as the fact they’ve managed to score just 11 in that time.

Hibs did, however, have another 45 minutes in which to respond to Alloa’s goal and while you couldn’t fault the effort of the players, they just didn’t posses that craft or guile to prise open the Alloa defence. In fact, the Wasps had the best chance in the second period to add to the scoring, but Oxley made a smart save to deny Duffy after he was played through by Flannigan.

Stubbs acknowledged Hibs now face a massive match against Falkirk tomorrow. However, he welcomed such a challenge, calling for his side to get back to basics.

“Our performance was disappointing, we did not play well,” he said. “We didn’t do the basics and that’s control and pass.

“I think it is probably a good thing we have quick game because after that there’s not a lot to speak about positively. We have a big game and we are looking for the players to respond.

“Obviously I don’t want to see my players play the way they did, but there are a lot of good players in there. I know that in football things can turn very quickly and they just need to get back to what they are good at. As well as being good with the ball, we have to be better without it.”