HIBERNIAN claimed their third draw in three games this year to hold on to fourth place in the SPL, avoiding defeat by Aberdeen for the first time this season.
Bookings: Aberdeen: Pawlett (unsporting behaviour)
Hibs: Deegan, Wotherspoon, McPake (unsporting behaviour), Griffiths (dissent)
Referee: Craig Thomson
Pat Fenlon’s team had thought themselves unfortunate to lose both those earlier games but yesterday they were lucky to get even a point.
Aberdeen’s Niall McGinn had an early penalty saved by Hibs goalkeeper Ben Williams and the home team went on to dominate the first half, playing some entertaining football. The Dons, however, paid both for that failure to convert from the spot and for an inability to find the final pass which would really cut Hibs open.
The Easter Road side were notably better in the second half and were even the superior team for spells. They remain two points ahead of Aberdeen, but will not do so for long if they continue their current spell of indifferent form, in which they have won just twice in their last 11 league matches. Indeed, they could fall to fifth place this week, as they face a difficult trip to Ross County while Aberdeen travel to St Johnstone, both on Wednesday night.
Craig Thomson is still notorious among Hibs fans for the penalty he awarded Hearts in last season’s Scottish Cup final but they had the referee to thank in the opening minutes here. When Peter Pawlett went down in the box under a Tim Clancy challenge, it was the kind of incident for which
spot-kicks are often given. Thomson, however, booked Pawlett for simulation.
That moment was one of several in the opening minutes in which the home team penetrated deep into the opposition area. Last-ditch tackles by Paul Hanlon and Ryan McGivern cleared the danger on other occasions but, no matter how competently the Hibs defence played, the ease with which Hibs’ midfield was being
bypassed must have concerned the visitors’ manager Pat Fenlon.
Aberdeen continued to press and, with ten minutes gone, they did get a penalty, when Jonny Hayes was fouled by Clancy. McGinn aimed towards the bottom right corner but Williams judged the attempt well and parried comfortably.
Numbers in midfield were not the problem for Hibs, as they were fielding a 4-5-1 formation with Leigh Griffiths wide on the right in the position often occupied by Eoin Doyle, who began on the bench. Shefki Kuqi, starting an SPL match for the first time, was on his own up front.
While Aberdeen’s 4-3-3 line-up might have left them short-handed through the middle, their greater
flexibility and higher workrate ensured they were on top of Hibs, who were often pressed back until they had to bring Williams into action to clear.
Just after the penalty, a break up the left forced Jamie Langfield to save from David Wotherspoon, but that was an isolated foray from Hibs. At least it
was a direct attempt on goal, however, something which Aberdeen, for all their creative approach work, found hard to conjure up from open play.
Half an hour in, they did succeed in getting beyond the Hibs defence, as McGinn slipped his marker on the left edge of the six-yard box but, from a tight angle and with Williams bearing down on him, he blasted wide.
The same player had another equally wayward attempt at goal towards half-time and soon after, Wotherspoon evaded three men, only to trickle a shot straight at Langfield. With stoppage time approaching, McGinn tried again, this time from a direct free-kick some 25 yards out. It drifted wide.
Clark Robertson was also wayward with the last kick of the half, as he leaned back and missed the target. It was an incident which summed up the half. Aberdeen were well on top and producing good build ups but failed to make their superiority tell.
Lewis Stevenson replaced McGivern for Hibs at the start of the second half, slotting in at left-back after the Northern Ireland international strained a hamstring. Then, 15 minutes in, Doyle came on for the ineffectual Kuqi but the changes did little to alter the pattern of play. Aberdeen had the first chance of the half with a free-kick. Hayes put it wide, although Williams had it covered.
As the heavy pitch began to cut up, Aberdeen found it harder to put passing moves together and both teams played more in the air. Hibs’ best chance of the game so far came that way. A long free-kick was pumped into the box from the right, Paul Hanlon headed back across goal from the far post but Doyle failed to get enough power on his header and Langfield saved routinely.
Hibs had more possession than they had had in the first half, and Aberdeen had to play far more on the break. Craig Brown introduced fresh legs in the shape of Scott Vernon, Cameron Smith and finally Josh Magennis but only the latter had the opportunity to make a telling contribution. He spurned it,
lashing over from a good 25 yards out.
The teams meet again at Easter Road on Sunday on Scottish Cup business, and both managers will have to devote some time to working out how they might break the deadlock.
Aberdeen: Langfield, Shaughnessy, Osbourne, Reynolds, Robertson, Milsom (Smith 81), Rae, Hughes, Pawlett (Vernon 69), McGinn, Hayes (Magennis 84). Subs not used: Brown, Low, Fallon, Masson.
Hibernian: Williams, Clancy, McPake, Hanlon, McGivern (Stevenson 46), Wotherspoon, Deegan, Taiwo, Cairney (Handling 81), Kuqi (Doyle 60), Griffiths. Subs not used: Murdoch, Maybury, Caldwell, Donaldson.