HALF-time was a blessing for both sides after a tentative opening 45 minutes that promised little more than hypothermia.
Hibs 2, Motherwell 0; January 26, 2007
Mercifully, both teams upped the tempo marginally after the break as they sought to convince that three points was there preferred option.
Hibs had started the match minus the verve and intensity that home fans had began to expect. Instead, they seemed cautiously pedestrian in their approach, and while they manoeuvred themselves goalwards at regular intervals there was no killer pass, no telling ball in behind and none of the ingenuity needed to break down a stolid Motherwell rearguard.
The away side had gone into the match without a fixture in two weeks due to the weather yet they looked organised and well-drilled, while Hibs were the ones who looked ring rusty, despite their three games the previous week.
But it’s amazing what a half-time pep talk, a switch of wing for Ivan Sproule and the introduction of a few new faces can do for a game. Within a minute of being on the pitch, Guillaume Beuzelin, who had replaced Michael Stewart, and Abdessalam Benjelloun, on for young Lewis Stevenson, combined for the latter to skelp a shot at Graeme Smith’s goal. It was well over but it managed to serve as a warming indication that at least someone had the intention of actually going out to try to win the match.
A matter of minutes later and Steven Whittaker found himself presented with a chance, but he failed to connect with it properly and it trundled towards Smith. Still, he was on target and Hibs finally seemed to have the goal within their sights.
But having been happy to play a containing game in the opening period, Motherwell found this newfound quest for a goal infectious and it was their substitute, Trevor Molloy, a half-time replacement for Darren Smith, who hit it from an angle out wide on the right.
All these forays forward allowed the game to open up slightly and Motherwell were catching a more regular glimpse at Andrew McNeil’s goal. Richie Foran almost found the back of the net. His drive from inside the box was blocked by Whittaker, and although it came straight back to him, allowing him to feed it to Kevin McBride, the substitute could not make the most of his sudden opportunity. Instead, McNeil pulled off a great save when Motherwell should have been celebrating the lead.
It may have taken them a while, but in the 65th minute Hibs finally found a way through the visiting rearguard. David Murphy drove up the line from left-back, passed into Benji and he dinked it out wide again, into the path of Sproule. He had been a growing menace since his switch to the left wing and his injection of pace into the move carried him past the defender. Nipping forward, he cut it back for the sprinting Scott Brown to bury it beyond Smith.
In a match that was by now more forward-thinking than had been the case, it still lacked the kind of clear-cut chances to hint at a goal rush. That gave Hibs greater ability to control the match and forced Motherwell to venture forward, but having established the lead while never really igniting, Hibs still managed to see out the game. Stephen Craigan had to clear inside the box in the 71st minute and when Kevin Thomson leathered in the breaking ball Motherwell again managed to get bodies in the way to block it.
Hibs added to their tally in the final minute of stoppage time, Beuzelin fed a pass out to Sproule. He darted forward and sprayed the ball across to Benji, who put his effort in off the post.