KEVIN Thomson’s contribution was arguably greater in exiting the park than it was throughout his 64 minutes on it.
Scorers: Hibernian - Robertson, 81; Dundee - Armstrong, 29
Sent off along with Dundee United’s Gavin Gunning following a fracas just after an hour, the red card ignited fury in him and a bit of fight in his team-mates. Not only did they wade into the ensuing melee showing a togetherness that has seemed lacking in recent matches, they lifted their game in his absence, channelling their frustration and fury into a far more constructive and passionate period of play.
They got their reward with an equaliser from Scott Robertson 15 minutes later.
Perhaps that scrap was just the release the Hibs players had needed after a couple of weeks of pressure building. Their manager’s future in the balance, they had been left bruised and bloodied by recent results and the criticism that followed and in the first hour of the match they appeared to lack the heart as well as the nous for the battle.
But the loss of their captain proved the moment they eventually began to fight back and it gave their under-fire manager a bit of respite as the crowd rallied behind their team and railed against the perceived refereeing injustice.
It had been Dundee United who had taken control of the match early on. Producing what they considered their best showing of the season so far, they peppered the Hibs defence, with Gary Mackay-Steven in particular causing the kind of havoc up the left flank that can leave defenders needing therapy.
It forced Hibs gaffer Pat Fenlon into a first half substitution, with right back Fraser Mullen hooked after just 36 minutes, paying the price for a reckless early tackle on the United winger that left him in an even tougher predicament as he was turned inside out.
By that stage, United had already assumed the scoreline advantage, and for all the guile in their play up to that point, with Ryan Dow, David Goodwillie, John Rankin and Stuart Armstrong all testing the home rearguard, it was the long ball that ultimately gave them the way through.
It was delivered by Calum Butcher in the 28th minute and with the Hibs centre-backs unable to deal with it, Armstrong slotted it past Ben Williams.
It was no more than the visitors merited. Had they taken more of their chances they would have enjoyed a more comfortable half-time lead and even after the break they had opportunities to extend the gap.
Fenlon was furious at his side’s pitiful performance at that stage, while his opposite number was frustrated that his men had not killed off the game.
The frustration proved justifiable as the match progressed and all hell broke loose after a high challenge which left Thomson and Gunning squaring up.
“To be honest that changed the game. It gave their crowd something to cheer about. For us to lose Gavin, we had to put Paton back to right-back and while he was excellent, we lost our way a wee bit in midfield but I don’t think it really punished Hibs.”
United still could have gone two up just before Hibs equalised but substitute Ryan Gauld’s effort went just wide of Williams’ post.
It was a decent summation of events as Hibs took advantage of the extra space they had to attack and, with their tails up, they went at United in a manner they have not really mustered so far this season.
“I think after the sending off we backed off a little and tried to hang on to the lead and unfortunately we couldn’t manage to do so,” said Armstrong. “I think going to ten men killed us and that balance of the team wasn’t as good as it could have been but if we had kept 11 on the park I think we would have seen out the game.”
There seems very little doubt about that.
But in managing to grab even a point from the jowls of defeat, courtesy of Scott Robertson’s goal 11 minutes from time, it is pretty clear that Hibs gave themselves a modicum of breathing space.
The pre-match protest that had been mooted failed to materialise but the boos and groans which accompanied the first half play suggested that the natives were not in the mood to stomach another defeat, and certainly not at home.
Redirecting their wrath towards the officials helped, but not as much as that desperately needed salvaged point.