Stubbs delighted with Hibs’ desire in Queens win

ominique Malonga heads a dramatic late winner for Hibs, while below, Queens' Chris Higgins exchanges angry words with the goalscorer. Pics: Neil Hanna
ominique Malonga heads a dramatic late winner for Hibs, while below, Queens' Chris Higgins exchanges angry words with the goalscorer. Pics: Neil Hanna
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Too much knowledge can sometimes be a dangerous thing and, for long spells of this match, that appeared to be the case as far as Hibs were concerned.

Being aware of the significance of victory following Rangers defeat by Falkirk earlier in the day seemed to be more of a hindrance than a help to Alan Stubbs’ players, who failed to find that hallmark fluency of which they are capable.

For 90 minutes and more they flirted around the edges of claiming the three points which would take them level with the Ibrox club at the top of the Championship table ahead of next Monday’s Christmas cracker in Govan.

As Stubbs himself observed, they were always nearly a pass away, always nearly producing that killer through ball and always nearly getting on the end of a cross. Nearly, however, wasn’t good enough as the home fans, understandably in buoyant mood, became increasingly frustrated and anxious at the possibility of witnessing a missed opportunity.

There was, as ever, no lack of effort or determination, Stubbs’ decision to go with a front three of Jason Cummings, James Keatings and Martin Boyle a statement of intent but the Easter Road side lacked that little bit of composure, displaying a tendency to want to do everything at breakneck speed.

Chances came and went against a well-organised Queen of the South defence, Keatings heading wide after being found all alone ten yards out by Liam Henderson’s cross and then stabbing a shot wide from only a couple of yards as he was again picked out by the midfielder.

Boyle, too, had an opportunity, stealing in behind Chris Higgins as the Queens skipper misjudged a long ball only to find it wouldn’t sit down sufficiently for him to test goalkeeper Robbie Thomson, his shot rippling the sidenetting.

And all the time the Dumfries outfit carried a threat of their own, the intelligent running of Iain Russell and the wiles of Derek Lyle always at the back of the mind as far as the Hibs defence were concerned although, in truth, only Mark Millar’s ferociously struck free-kick caused Mark Oxley any concern, the goalkeeper flicking that shot over his bar. Loud shouts for a penalty as Darren McGregor’s piledriver crashed off the arms of Andy Dowie were ignored by referee Brian Colvin before Stubbs again demonstrated the strength in depth within his squad, introducing Dominique Malonga and Henri Anier to add a little more poise and physical presence up front.

The switch almost worked immediately, Anier playing his part in carving out an opening for his fellow sub whose attempt to steer the ball into the top corner found the head of Lewis Kidd before Higgins knocked away another goal-bound effort from McGregor.

But just as the game looked as if it was drifting towards stalemate a largely forgettable encounter erupted into controversy as Malonga rose, three and a half minutes into the seven eventually added on by Colvin, to head home skipper David Gray’s cross.

However, as the home players and fans celebrated in style, Queens boss James Fowler, his bench and players were left raging, claiming Colvin had, after stopping play for an apparent head knock suffered by midfielder Kyle Hutton at the edge of his own penalty area, restarted the match by rolling the ball to Liam Fontaine rather than dropping it between two opponents.

Whether or not that was the case, there was the small matter of Hibs having to negotiate some 90 yards from one corner of the pitch to the opposite corner at the other end for Gray to supply that telling cross.

Queens were also fuming that Hutton was off the pitch at the time as ordered by Colvin who, having warned a couple of the visiting players about timewasting, appeared to call his bluff, as Stubbs suggested.

The Hibs boss said: “The player has gone down as if he has had a head injury and the referee has stopped it. He then realises the trainer is going to come on and tries to get back up to stop that because he knows he is going to go off the pitch and time will be added on.”

As for the controversial restart, Stubbs said: “I think you will see there are two players, one makes an attempt for it, the other leaves it – but I might be seeing it through green glasses.”

The rancour didn’t end there, though, with angry confrontations on the final whistle after which Lyle claimed an un-named Hibs player, but one who hadn’t been involved in the matchday squad, had told him he would see him “down the tunnel” before Stubbs intervened as peacemaker.

Stubbs played down the flashpoint claiming it was no more than “a bit of male testosterone” at play, before adding: “They were obviously disappointed at having lost the game – that’s normal, you’d expect players to be disappointed.

“I did not want to see any players getting sent off and that’s the reason I jumped in, there’s always the potential of that. But after that I was too busy clapping our fans for sticking with us.”

And the head coach paid tribute to his players for their late, late show for a second weekend in succession, Boyle having netted an injury-time equaliser against Falkirk at a time when Hibs were down to nine men.

He said: “I felt we were on the periphery of maybe doing something but the most important thing was to find a way to win.

“To be honest, I thought Dave’s control of the ball most of the afternoon was not great but it shows you the power of the team and the belief that he produces his best bit of quality at that point.

“When you have that and that desire to keep going you will have opportunities and that’s two weeks in a row we’ve pulled something out of the bag.”

Insisting the showdown with Rangers will “take care of itself,” Stubbs added: “Nothing is won, but we are coming to the end of the year in a fantastic position and the players deserve a lot of credit for the work and effort they have put in to try to give themselves a platform to challenge.

“We have done that. At one point we were potentially going to go 11 points behind them and now we are level, that speaks volumes for the group of players we have.

“I’ve said all along ‘we are here and we are not going away’, I think people might start to believe it.”