PAT Fenlon’s 44th birthday celebrations were left in tatters as Motherwell staged a stunning second half fight-back to leave Hibs hopes of a top-six finish hanging by a thread.
Scorers: Motherwell - Higdon 48, McFadden 54, Higginbotham 67, Hateley 84; Hibernian - Taiwo 23
Referee: W Collum
The Easter Road boss must have felt it was going to be his day when Tom Taiwo threw himself at David Wotherspoon’s cross to head home his first goal for the Capital club, his strike a real smash-and-grab effort as Stuart McCall’s had dominated the opening 20 minutes or so, but they were left to rue a glaring miss from skipper James McPake, the big defender heading a Leigh Griffiths corner wide of the target when he should have put Hibs two up seven minutes after Taiwo’s opener.
Instead, the Fir Park outfit, who had come from two goals down to beat Hibs 3-2 at Easter Road earlier in the season, mounted another stirring revival, hitting Fenlon’s side with four goals after the interval as they tightened their grip on that runners-up spot.
Michael Higdon threw the Lanarkshire side a lifeline as he headed home James Mc Fadden’s cross and it was one the Steelmen took, McFadden himself firing them ahead with his first goal since returning to his old club before Kallum Higginbotham put the game beyond Hibs with a spectacular third midway through the second period. And to rub salt into Hibs wounds, Tom Hateley added a fourth for Motherwell in the dying minutes, taking McFadden’s pass before driving in a shot which deflected off McPake to leave goalkeeper Ben Williams flatfooted.
Now Hibs rivals for a top six finish, Dundee United, Kilmarnock and Aberdeen will sense they now all have a chance of overhauling the Easter Road outfit, all three having a game in hand with United just a point behind and the other two a further point down on Fenlon’s side.
Hibs, on the other hand, face the daunting prospect of a visit from high-flying Inverness Caley before travelling to the east end of Glasgow to take on champions elect Celtic in their last match before the split.
Motherwell made all the early running, pinning Fenlon’s side back into their own half for much of the opening 20 minutes with McFadden, predictably, the dangerman as he operated on the right flank rather than the left. And it was he who provided his side’s first glimpses of goal, a cross nodded over by the Steelmen’s top scorer Michael Higdon before the midfielder’s head flick found Henrik Ojamaa in a threatening position, although from a tight angle.
His shot broke off Ryan McGivern, prompting a sharp save from Ben Williams in the Hibs goal. The Easter Road No 1 enjoyed a touch of luck a few minutes later as Tom Hateley whipped in a wickedly dipping free-kick from the left which the goalkeeper did well to keep out with his right boot, the rebound catching Motherwell defender Shaun Hutchinson, standing just four yards out, by surprise as the ball crashed off his midriff and went wide.
Leigh Griffiths had been forced to live on scraps as he ploughed a lonely furrow up front for Hibs as his team-mates hopeful attempts to get him involved were invariably picked off, but if the 921 fans who had travelled from Edinburgh were looking to him to add to his 22 goals they, as was everyone else inside Fir Park, were surprised not only to see Fenlon’s players hit their hosts with a classic sucker punch but by the identity of the scorer.
David Wotherspoon threw in a clever cross from the right and there was Taiwo ghosting into the six yard box to throw himself at the ball to make the merest contact with his head to send it beyond Darren Randolph.
Having survived that early onslaught, Hibs could well have doubled their lead seven minutes later, skipper McPake charging in to meet Griffiths’ corner, only to send it wide. The big defender returned to his own end of the park no doubt reflecting that he should, at least, have got his header on target.
Hutchinson, back after a one-match suspension, did prevent a second for Hibs, his tackle on Griffiths as he latched onto Matt Done’s through ball perfectly timed as it had to be a yard inside the penalty area.
Motherwell, however, slowly regained their composure and Ojamaa provided Hateley with a clear sight of Williams’ goal but the full back pulled his shot wide of the far post.
Higdon exchanged angry words with McPake after the defender’s boot caught him in the back as they challenged for a ball in the air inside the centre circle, referee Willie Collum moving in quickly to calm the situation down.
The Motherwell hitman clearly felt he’d been wronged, but he gained revenge in the most telling way, nodding the Lanarkshire side level barely three minutes into the second half. Hibs had again found themselves on the back foot as McCall’s players swarmed around their penalty area and McFadden, having seen his initial shot blocked, flighted in inviting cross in to find Higdon totally unmarked as he headed the ball beyond Williams, a former team-mate at Crewe Alexandra, for his 20th SPL goal of the season.
It was a blow for Hibs, but Motherwell would undoubtedly have felt it was a goal they richly deserved and there was more to come, McFadden sending the home fans wild as he scored his first goal since returning to the club. The midfielder’s run went unchecked as he cut in from the right before sliding a low left foot shot from 18 yards beyond Williams and into the far corner of the net.
Fenlon reacted immediately, throwing on Eoin Doyle for Done who had been largely ineffective and the flame-haired striker had the ball in the net within a couple of minutes, redirecting Jorge Claros’ weak shot beyond Randolph but he was yards offside – and he knew it.
But after a short flurry of activity around the Motherwell penalty area McCall’s side hit back to clinch the points with a fantastic goal from Higginbotham. The on-loan Huddersfield star had his back to goal as Stuart Carswell delivered a cross from the right but he smartly re-adjusted his feet to send a spectacular overhead kick from 16 yards back across goal and into the far corner of Williams’ net.
And to underline Motherwell’s supremacy, Hateley added that deflected fourth, leaving Hibs defeated, deflated and with their top six hopes fading.Motherwell: Randolph, Hateley, Ramsden, Hutchinson, Hammell; McFadden, Lasley (Carswell 28), Law (Cummins 46), Higginbotham (Francis-Angol 83); Ojamaa, Higdon. Subs not used: Hollis, Saunders, McHugh, Daley.
Hibernian: Williams, Maybury, McPake, McGivern, Stevenson; Wotherspoon, Robertson (Harris 68), Claros, Taiwo, Done (Doyle 55); Griffiths. Subs not used: Murdoch, Deegan, Handling, Forster, Thomson.