Riding the momentum from their victory over Edinburgh rivals Hearts in midweek, Hibs looked set to go nine points clear at the top of the Championship as they blitzed Dunfermline in the early stages and quickly established a two-goal lead.
At which point, the 11 heroes on the field transformed into a completely unrecognisable unit, as they played second fiddle to a resolute Dunfermline side for the rest of the evening.
After goals from the equally impressive Paul McMullan and Kallum Higginbotham, the visitors created more than enough clear-cut opportunities to win the match, and were rightly disappointed with the full-time result even though it had looked highly improbable at 2-0 down.
“We made it difficult for ourselves losing the two goals early on and we could have lost a couple more at that stage, said Pars boss Allan Johnston. “They showed a lot of character and quality to come back. I thought we created loads of chances in the second half and we’re coming away unfortunate not to get the win.”
The home faithful were in fine voice come kick-off time, with the feelgood buzz from Wednesday’s win palpable inside the ground.
Chants of “here we go, two in a row” – a reference to the club’s bid to remain Scottish Cup holders – were still echoing around Easter Road when Hibs took the lead. Jason Cummings drifted out to the left and when he sent in a terrific whipped ball to the back post, Martin Boyle was on hand to drill the ball home.
Cummings was involved in everything Hibs did as an attacking force in the early going, shooting into the arms of Sean Murdoch and setting up Andrew Shinnie for a chance before doubling the lead himself. This time it was Boyle who turned provider as the winger sprinted past Jason Talbot, only to be barged to the ground by the Dunfermline full back. Referee John Beaton pointed to the spot and Cummings made no mistake.
A lapse in concentration then gifted the visitors a route back into the match almost immediately. In trying to deal with a routine through ball from Nicky Clark, David Gray completely mishit his attempted clearance, allowing McMullan to nip in and slot past Ofir Marciano.
From there until the final ten minutes, the only team that looked like scoring were the visitors. They almost levelled five minutes later when McMullan raced on to Clark’s knockdown. This time the midfielder opted for power and watched as Marciano tipped his shot over the crossbar.
Hibs’ central defensive issues worsened on 34 minutes when Liam Fontaine was forced from the action. With Jordon Forster and Paul Hanlon already sidelined, Marvin Bartley was deployed as a makeshift centre-back alongside Darren McGregor. While Hibs had looked vulnerable in defence prior to Fontaine’s exit, there’s no doubt the situation deteriorated further as Bartley looked wholly uncomfortable in the unfamiliar role.
It took Dunfermline only 27 seconds to draw level after the restart. McMullan slung in a deep ball for Higginbotham at the back post and the attacker was able to send a beautiful volley beyond Marciano.
Hibs were reeling and Dunfermline smelled blood, attacking the league leaders with real venom. Unfortunately for them, while the back four seemed powerless to stop their advances, they couldn’t find a way past Marciano for a third time. The Israeli stopper pulled off two incredible close-range saves in the space of five seconds to deny Clark and Michael Moffat as the away side continued to push forward.
McGregor forced Murdoch to push a looping header over the bar, but other than that the hosts failed to truly trouble their opponents in the second half.
Though the draw re-establishes their seven-point lead at the top, it must go down as another missed opportunity to extend the gap.
Lennon would later cite the Fontaine injury and a squad “running on fumes” as the reason for his side’s struggles.
Judging from the boos which greeted the full-time whistle, the home fans were not in such an understanding mood.