FOR every one step forward it’s two steps back for Alan Stubbs’ side as they desperately try to get some momentum going in this league campaign.
Terrific away wins against Ross County and Rangers have now been followed by the failure to take three points from successive home games against Raith Rovers and Dumbarton, leaving the Easter Road side 14 points off the summit after only nine matches played. Although, on this occasion at least, Hibs can bemoan misfortune after being the victim of two terrible refereeing decisions in the space of 60 first-half seconds.
It started in the 40th minute when Liam Craig’s header caused all sorts of confusion in a packed penalty area. Eventually the ball dropped kindly for Dominique Malonga, in a central area eight yards out, who was ready to get off a clean strike at goal when he was hauled down from behind by Andy Graham. A clearer case of denying a goalscoring opportunity you are unlikely to see. However, after much deliberation, referee Barry Cook decided a yellow card was sufficient punishment.
Malonga stepped up to take the penalty and drove a pretty poor effort straight at Danny Rogers, only to earn a reprieve as the ball squirmed under the keeper’s body. The on-loan Aberdeen stopper reached behind and clawed the ball back, but not before it appeared to have crossed the goal-line. For a split second the game was in a state of suspended animation as everyone waited on Cook inevitably pointing to the centre circle. He didn’t. Assistant referee Ralph Gordon adjudged that the whole ball had not crossed the line, much to the dismay of the Hibs players, fans and their manager.
“It stings when the officials are 12 yards away and the fans are 60 yards away and they can see it,” said an agitated Stubbs.
“When you’ve got two officials in such close proximity you would hope that at least one of them would see the ball go over the line. It’s difficult to comment on people’s performances because we can get in trouble.
“It was a completely one-sided contest. If we score that goal it’s a completely different game. We haven’t been rewarded for our play.” That may be the case, but the Hibs players aren’t faultless for their failure to win after they didn’t build on an excellent opening 30 minutes. Playing in the 3-5-2 formation
that has worked so well for them recently, they continually found space in behind the Dumbarton full-backs and could have been ahead well before any controversy occurred.
On three minutes Jason Cummings was off-balance as he tried to contort his body to meet a Lewis Stevenson cross, managing only to send the ball wide. Almost the same scenario occurred eight minutes later with David Gray failing to make clean contact with a Stevenson ball from the left. Cummings was the hosts’ biggest goal threat on the day, and the young forward went close with a terrific effort from 25 yards that Rogers had to tip over the crossbar. Then came the penalty.
“I don’t think it was a penalty,” countered Dumbarton manager Ian Murray. “And I think that’s why he’s only given a yellow card. According to our boys, though, the ball has crossed the line.”
Hibs huffed and puffed after the interval but the closest they got was a disallowed goal 15 minutes from the end. Dylan McGeouch’s cross from the right flashed in front of Craig but fell kindly for Paul Heffernan to tap home, only for the substitute to be denied by the linesman’s flag.
Dumbarton were guilty of being wasteful with several counter-attacking opportunities in the game’s closing minutes as Hibs threw bodies forward in search of a winner, though the part-time players deserve enormous credit for the disciplined defending which helped extend their unbeaten streak to six matches.
Hibs: Oxley, Forster, Fontaine (Kennedy 59), Hanlon, Stevenson, Craig (S Allan 77), McGeouch, Robertson, Gray, Cummings, Malonga (Heffernan 69). Subs not used: Perntreou, Stanton, Booth, Handling. Booked: Robertson, Cummings, Malonga.
Dumbarton: Rogers, van Zanten, Graham, Taggart, Linton, Gilhaney, Agnew (McLaughlin 90 +5), Megginson (MacDonald 72), Flemming (Campbell 77), Kirkpatrick, Nish. Subs not used: Mair, Murray, McDougall, Ewings. Booked: Graham, Linton, Gilhaney, Agnew.
Ref: B Cook