HIBERNIAN moved back into second place in the SPL after they returned to winning ways with a 1-0 victory at St Johnstone last night. In a match in which nearly every incident of note was packed into the closing ten minutes, Paul Cairney grabbed the only goal of the game late on after being put through by Leigh Griffiths.
The strike came minutes after Hibs goalkeeper Ben Williams had saved a penalty from Nigel Hasselbaink, as well as pulling off what his manager Pat Fenlon argued was an even better save from Liam Craig from the rebound.
While Fenlon was proud of the qualities his team had shown to battle on for the three points, St Johnstone manager Steve Lomas was frustrated not only by the defeat, but also by the dismissal of Dave Mackay and by his own sending-off.
But Lomas’s major concern after the game was the suspected broken leg suffered by substitute David Robertson late in the match. Robertson went in for the ball and in a collision fell to the ground in obvious pain. “It looks like a nasty, nasty injury,” Lomas said.
“It was a block tackle and, unfortunately David has come off second best. It has been a very disappointing night, specially with David getting that bad injury. Hopefully it’s not as bad as it seems.”
Lomas was bemused by the fact that Hasselbaink had taken his team’s penalty and by his being sent to the stand. “He’s a young lad and he’s got the confidence to take it,” he said of the spot-kick. “But I was a bit perplexed why he was taking it. He’s come off the bench, Dave Mackay usually takes them, or I thought one of our senior lads should have taken it.”
Lomas’s dismissal came immediately after that incident, and he could not see why he should have been punished. “I kicked a water bottle,” he said. “I said to the fourth official it was frustration.”
The Perth club’s manager was equally perplexed by the sending-off of Mackay, which came soon after the injury to Robertson. There was a spot of confusion in which the St Johnstone players appeared to expect Griffiths to return the ball straight to them, and Mackay was red-carded after going head to head with the Hibs striker.
“Dave said Leigh put his head to him,” Lomas continued. “They chose to send Dave off. You can’t give referees opportunities.”
Fenlon accepted that his team had not played particularly well, but was pleased that they had claimed the three points after losing to Aberdeen and Dundee in their previous two games. “It’s a big three points for us,” he said. “Paul knows he didn’t play well, but he was due a goal and he scored a goal.
“We played really well on Saturday and got nothing out of the game. We didn’t play as well tonight and got three points. Ben’s penalty save was good but his follow-up save was probably better. We were under the cosh then, and Ben’s save gave us a lift and maybe deflated them.”
Fenlon added that he had been talking with assistant Liam O’Brien at the time of the sending-off and therefore did not get a good view of the incident but said he had planned to take Griffiths off anyway rather than reacting to his player’s involvement with Mackay.