Six talking points as Elie Youan's third goal in three games moves Hibs up to fifth with 1-0 win at St Mirren
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Overjoyed Hibs fans spilled onto the pitch to celebrate the French forward’s superb goal, a fizzing toe-poke low into the bottom corner from around 20 yards after a neat touch and step inside Marcus Fraser in the 77th minute. The Saints defender should perhaps have done better to cut out Ewan Henderson’s zipped pass in from the right touchline after being spring free by Chris Cadden, but Youan’s quick feet made the goal.
On a day when Lewis Stevenson made a record-breaking 450th league appearance for he club, Hibs showed endurance. It was a solid team performance and an evenly-contested match played in tricky conditions, and Youan’s quality made the difference.
How quickly things can change. After the dismay of the Edinburgh derby defeat, manager Lee Johnson has now picked up seven points in three games and is unbeaten in five league games, despite offloading more players than he brought in during the January transfer window. Hibs are up to fifth and looking up.
Porteous not missed
It is no secret that Hibs are light at centre-back, and Mikey Devlin will spend another week on trial before a decision is made whether or not to bring him in as cover on a short-term deal. But fears expressed by fans about the vulnerability of Will Fish and Paul Hanlon as a pairing have been unfounded on the evidence of the three games they have now played together in eight days.
On a day when Ryan Porteous scored on his Watford debut, Hibs fans might even be forgiven for starting to wonder if the former talisman is really going to be missed that much after all. Fish and Hanlon were very good again. Hibs have conceded one goal in three games with them as a partnership.
Hibs defended pretty well in an even first half, with James Jeggo doing a lot of the dirty work in the holding role and organising those around him. The only two chances that came St Mirren’s way were the result of individual errors. But not from defenders.
The first was when Jeggo was robbed by Mark O’Hara in a dangerous area, giving Curtis Main a sight of goal. It was a powerful strike but a good height for David Marshall, who kept it out at the near post.
The second was an inexplicable inside pass by Aiden McGeady straight to Main 30 yards from the Hibs goal. This time the Saints striker fired over the bar.
CJ Egan-Riley, who had 15 minutes or so from the bench against Ross County, was handed his first start at right-back, and also played his part in the clean sheet.
The 20-year-old on loan from Burnley is thought to be equally comfortable at right-sided centre-back and you could see why. The Hibs fans were singing his name just ten minutes into game. It came after he a show of strength and anticipation to get in front of a Saints attacker to intercept and overturn possession. He went on to do the same thing a few more times.
Quick and strong, the early indications are that he has better defensive instincts than Cadden, whose strength is going forward. The bonus is that Egan-Riley can attack too. He looks like a quality addition and will could well make the right-back spot his own. Cadden played further forward when he came on early in the second half to replace McGeady, who wasn’t as effective as he has been of late.
McKirdy’s bad luck
Harry McKirdy certainly caught the eye with his new flamengo pink mohican hair, but it didn’t bring him much luck. The Englishman had to be helped from the field in the 17th minute after losing his footing and falling awkwardly on an ankle.
With Kevin Nisbet and Mykola Kukharevych out and new signing Matthew Hoppe on the bench, it was the last thing he needed. Back in he starting line-up, McKirdy he was robbed of a chance to catch the manager’s eye. The injury didn’t look good. He re-appeared from the dressing-room at half time on crutches. Joe Newell also limped off in the second half, replaced by Ewan Henderson.
Hoppe, the American striker, came on when McKirdy limped off. He only met his new teammates for the first time on Thursday and hasn’t been playing much for Middlesbrough, so 75 minutes was longer than he would have expected.
His mistimed a couple of challenges, but looks aggressive and mobile. He made a nice darting run in the second half which opened up an angle to shoot under pressure. It was tight, though, and Trevor Carson’s save at the near post was comfortable.
He is clearly flexible, playing in the middle, right and left of the front three in his 75 minutes on he pitch. He will need time to get to know his teammates and Hibs’ style of play. His teammates will have to adapt to him too.
At 6ft 3in he 21-year-old striker offers a physical presence that has been missing since Kukharevych has been out injured. He has pedigree as well, winning his seventh international cap last week.
He has played in the Bundesliga and La Liga and was signed on a four-year-deal by Middlesbrough last summer only to struggle for game time in the Championship. Scottish football should suit him when he is up to speed.
Top six prospects
St Mirren have been a tough nut to crack at home this season. They lost their opening home game of the season but haven’t lost since, beating Celtic and drawing with Rangers and Hearts. They are a good team. Indeed, Stephen Robinson’s team were within striking distance of Hearts going into the game and, alongside Livingston, are strongly fancied to finish inside the top six.
All of which make this one of the best results of the season for Hibs. On this evidence, they will be right in the top six mix too and not in a relegation fight as some fans predicted.