St Johnstone 1, Hibs 1: Ten-man Hibees just fail to hold on for win
Ten-man Hibs just failed to hold on for the win which would have lifted them above Aberdeen in the Premiership table having played almost 80 minutes a man short.
The Easter Road side had got off to a dream start when Efe Ambrose headed them in front with less than two minutes on the clock.
But they lost goalkeeper Ofir Marciano, red-carded after rushing from his area and using his arms to thwart Saints forward Chris Kane, who had raced in behind the visiting defence.
Marciano protested his innocence but had to go, replaced by Cammy Bell as Australian striker Jamie Maclaren was sacrificed to allow him to take his place between the sticks.
The Easter Road side defended doggedly throughout the second half, their normal free-flowing football replaced by a determination to dig deep and preserve that narrow lead.
But, just as they looked as if they might get away with the three points, Kane finally hauled the Perth side level on 83 minutes. And it could have been even worse for Hibs deep into added-on time as Bell touched Scott Tanser’s cracking free-kick onto the bar.
In the end, given the circumstances, the Capital side would have been happy with the point even if it meant that they’d failed to beat St Johnstone in their three clashes this season.
Lennon was forced into one change, Dylan McGeouch – called into the Scotland squad for the first time this week – missing his first game of the season with a slight abdominal strain which resulted in Marvin Bartley being drafted into central midfield.
The Hibs manager was left to watch from the main stand at McDiarmid Park as he began a three-match touchline ban but he’d hardly taken his seat when his side went ahead.
Scott Allan skipped past Saints’ Chris Millar on the left touchline before delivering a cross which allowed Ambrose to tower above Joe Shaugnessy and power a downward header beyond the helpless Alan Mannus in the home goal.
Millar, however, made amends when he fired a long ball which found Kane, clearly onside, stealing in behind the Hibs defence. Marciano had come racing from his area only to find himself caught in no-man’s land and used his arms as the Saints forward tried to take the ball past him.
Referee John Beaton took his time and discussed what should be done with his far-side assistant Paul O’Neill before brandishing the red card despite the Israeli goalkeeper’s protests.
Australian striker Maclaren was immediately sacrificed to allow substitute goalkeeper Bell to make his debut while Hibs faced playing the next 75 minutes a man short.
Despite that disadvantage, the Easter Road side almost claimed a second, the persistence of Florian Kamberi resulting in the ball falling for Allan, who drilled it low across the face of goal and only inches out of the reach of the Swiss striker, who had elected to remain in Scotland rather than head home following the death of his 86-year-old grandfather.
It was imperative that Hibs held on to the ball for as long as possible in possession, a point Lennon’s assistant Garry Parker made on a couple of occasions to Allan, urging the midfielder to curb his natural instinct to play those speculative passes he so often makes.
While Maclaren had had his evening cut short, Hibs persisted with two up front, Martin Boyle pushed through the middle alongside Kamberi with the obvious aim to use his searing pace. And it almost worked but for a lunging desperate challenge from Saints defender Steven Anderson which brought a booking but prevented his opponent getting in on goal.
Although holding the numerical superiority, the Perth outfit hadn’t been too much of a threat but that changed as the clock began to tick down to the half-time whistle, Murray Davidson sending a header over from a Liam Craig corner before Tanser’s cross fell for Shaugnessy 12 yards out. But Bell was equal to the challenge, bringiing off a terrific save before going down at the feet of Kane, who had taken a poor touch from former Hibs skipper Craig’s pass and picking up a knock in the process.
It was a moment of worry for those Hibs fans packed in behind that goal as Bell received treatment before gingerly getting to his feet.
Hibs made it through the four minutes of added-on time before heading up the tunnel no doubt well aware that the going was only likely to become even tougher when they reappeared.
Kane whistled one just wide seconds after the restart as Saints sought to totally change the complexion of the game before Bell beat away a shot from Saints substitute George Williams with Kane making a complete hash of trying to get on the loose ball which gave the goalkeeper time to grab it.
By this point, Kamberi was being asked to fulfil that thankless task of lone striker, outnumbered and with his back to goal more often than not as Boyle retreated back on the right to offer his defence some additional cover.
Hibs were looking to hit on the break and only a cynical challenge by Blair Alston, the Saints midfielder chopping down John McGinn from behind, brought one such moment to a halt, referee John Beaton producing a yellow card when a red could have been equally merited.
It was a rare moment of relief, though, for Hibs at the back as they all too often invited pressure by hasty, careless clearances which went straight to a blue shirt and so allowed Saints to get on the front foot yet again.
Alston had another nibble at McGinn so it came as no surprise when Saints boss Tommy Wright replaced him with former Hibs midfielder David Wotherspoon as it was clear the ex-Falkirk man was walking a tightrope.
Up until their four-goal burst against Dundee at the weekend, St Johnstone had been the Premiership’s lowest scorers and there was plenty of evidence as to why as time and again they worked the ball across Hibs penalty area with no-one able to apply the killer touch.
That was until Denny Johnstone’s flick gave Kane the space to shuffle the ball onto his right foot to claim the equaliser which prevented Hibs leapfrogging Aberdeen and moving into third place in the table.
St Johnstone: Mannus, Gordon (Johnstone 73), Shaughnessy, Anderson, Tanser, Alston (Wotherspoon 68), Millar (C Williams 46), Davidson, Craig, MacLean, Kane. Unused subs: Willock, Clark, Watson, Comrie. Bookings: Anderson (30), Alston (59), Tanser (71). Craig (73), Shaughnessy (89).
Hibs: Marciano, Ambrose, McGregor, Hanlon, Stevenson, Boyle, Bartley, Allan (Whittaker 87), McGinn, Kamberi, MacLaren (Bell 15). Unused subs: Porteous, Stirling, Swanson, Shaw, Rherras. Booked: McGinn (78); Red card: Marciano (13).
Referee: J Beaton