WITH safety ensured and nothing more than seventh place to play for, it was no surprise when neither Hibernian nor Aberdeen appeared too keen to claim a victory.
Ref: S McLean
After a limp first half the second period was far livelier, and Hibs had the better of it, with Leigh Griffiths having the best effort of the game late on.
But while Hibs’ attack was more inventive, Aberdeen had a solid defence, with centre-half Mark Reynolds and goalkeeper Jamie Langfield being particularly useful. The goalless draw which resulted keeps both teams where they were in the bottom six of the SPL, with Aberdeen eighth, behind seventh-placed Kilmarnock on goal difference, and Hibs ninth, a point ahead of city rivals Hearts.
Hibs manager Pat Fenlon, selecting a team for the first time since their dramatic Scottish Cup semi-final win over Falkirk, made two changes from the 11 who finished that 4-3 victory. Lewis Stevenson was in at left-back in place of the suspended Ryan McGivern, and Kevin Thomson, who began the semi but was taken off midway through the second half, was on in place of Jorge Claros.
With four games still to go before the cup final against Celtic it is too early yet to predict what Fenlon’s starting line-up will be then, but as things stand several players appear to have a lot to do to force their way back into the reckoning – if, that is, they are even given the chance. Scott Robertson, for example, was not in the squad last night, while other significant omissions were Gary Deegan and Paul Cairney. Matt Done and David Wotherspoon were on the bench, but, with two fewer substitutes allowed in the cup, they too have a fight on their hands if they are to break into the squad of 16.
In his first match in charge of Aberdeen, Derek McInnes started with a 4-3-3 system, in which Jonny Hayes joined Josh Magennis and Niall McGinn up front. The visitors began as positively as that formation would suggest, and on several occasions Hibs had Paul Hanlon to thank for some timely interventions at the heart of defence.
It took a while for either team to really get into their stride, however, and the first incident of note came with a dozen minutes or so on the clock, when Rob Milsom was the first man to be booked after a late tackle brought down Kevin Thomson. The Hibs midfielder went down clutching a leg, but was soon able to resume.
Griffiths was the first home player to have an attempt on goal with an overhead kick from a wide angle, but was unable to get his shot on target.
Midway through the first half he had a far more clear-cut chance when a header from captain James McPake put him through on goal, but with Mark Reynolds closing him down the striker shot straight at Jamie Langfield, who was able to clear the danger.
The first half petered out tamely after that, with neither team appearing wholly enthusiastic about trying to claim the three points. It was a relief to all concerned, then, when the second half began in far livelier style, with Griffiths again at the heart of things.
Thomson initiated the move with a well-weighted through ball from inside his own half, and Griffiths gave chase down the left channel. With the defence closing in he squared back to Handling, but the teenager’s shot was too soft, allowing Langfield to get down and save.
That was the beginning of a far more promising period of play from Hibs, and ten minutes later Eoin Doyle came within inches of opening the scoring. Tim Clancy’s cross from the right fell to Alex Harris, and when his shot was blocked it rebounded to Doyle some seven or eight yards out. The Irishman struck his shot well, but it hit a post and went spinning to safety with Langfield helpless.
Milsom was off-target with a snap shot around the hour mark as Aberdeen came back into the reckoning, and he was then joined in the book by Thomson after the midfielder had slid in on Jonny Hayes.
Griffiths remained the one player who looked capable of making the difference, and a neat interchange of passes between him and Clancy almost prised the defence open deep in the box. In the end, though, Aberdeen cleared their lines as far as Thomson, whose shot sailed harmlessly off target.
McInnes made a double substitution midway through the second half, introducing Peter Pawlett and Scott Vernon, then Fenlon responded by bringing on Ross Caldwell. Pawlett was immediately involved in the action, but unusually for the winger, on his goal-line, as he cleared a Hanlon header from a Griffiths corner.
The Hibs centre-half, enjoying one of his best outings of recent months, was equally prominent at the other end as the game entered its last ten minutes, heading a Hayes cross to safety as McGinn and Vernon closed in. With time running out it was obvious there would be one goal at most in the match, and Griffiths did his best to snatch it when he fired in a shot from more than 30 yards out. The attempt was headed for the top left corner, but Langfield got a strong hand to it to preserve the point which keeps his team just ahead of the Edinburgh side.
Hibernian: Williams, Clancy, McPake, Hanlon, Stevenson, Harris, Thomson, Taiwo (Claros 84), Handling (Done 85), Doyle (Caldwell 73), Griffiths. Subs not used: Grant, Wotherspoon, Maybury, Horribine.
Aberdeen: Langfield, Shaughnessy, Anderson, Reynolds, Robertson, Jack, Rae, Milsom (Vernon 67), Hayes (Fallon 88), Magennis (Pawlett 67), McGinn. Subs not used: Twardzik, Naysmith, Hughes, Smith.