HIBS’ hopes of making the top six were dealt a massive blow with defeat to Inverness at Easter Road this afternoon.
Scorers: Hibernian: Griffiths (59); Inverness CT: Draper (48), Shinnie (65)
Hibernian fell out of the top six with this defeat and, given that they visit Celtic on Saturday in the final game before the split, it now seems more than likely that they will once again finish in the bottom half of the table.
They can have few complaints. Without a home league victory in 2013, they have taken only nine points from 11 fixtures this year.
After beating Celtic at Easter Road on December 29, European football looked on the cards. It still could be, of course, but winning the Scottish Cup has traditionally proved difficult around these parts and, on the evidence of this display, few would bet on that outcome.
For Inverness, though, sitting comfortably in third place, the Europa League surely beckons. Terry Butcher’s side played the better football here and were worthy winners.
“We wanted this to be a special season and now it’s shaping up to be extra-special, our best ever,” said Butcher afterwards. “Europe is the aim and we’ll keep plugging away at it.
“These players like each other and I trust them. I was able to sit and watch this game with my legs crossed, not because I needed the toilet but because I was relaxed.”
Kevin Thomson’s last goal for Hibs came in a 2-2 draw with Celtic seven years ago but he came close to breaking the deadlock here with a full-blooded drive from the edge of the penalty area which had Antonio Reguero, who has agreed a summer switch to Kilmarnock, scrambling to save.
Inverness played some pretty passing patterns but their final ball let them down and they were reduced to firing in long-range efforts which failed to trouble Ben Williams in goal.
Ryan McGivern wasn’t far away in the 28th minute when his shot from 25 yards beat Reguero but ended up in the side netting.
Williams had nothing to do for 36 minutes but then produced two vital saves within 60 seconds, the first from a Richie Foran volley and the second at the feet of Aaron Doran.
That Inverness were in the ascendancy was confirmed three minutes after the restart when they took the lead with a well-taken, if poorly defended, goal.
Richie Foran’s hopeful punt upfield should not have caused problems but, while the rest of the Hibs back four stepped up, Lewis Stevenson stayed back. The makeshift full-back consequently played
Ross Draper onside and the midfielder deftly lobbed the ball over Williams from the edge of the penalty area.
Hibs drew level within five minutes and once again they were grateful for the predatory instincts of Leigh Griffiths.
The striker had uncharacteristically squandered an earlier opportunity when, sent clear by Eoin Doyle, he delayed his shot and Reguero was able to leave his line and block. Griffiths made amends when he stuck out his leg to alter the trajectory of a Gary Deegan shot which the Spanish keeper had been odds-on to save and the deflection wrong-footed the keeper. It was Hibernian’s 40th SPL goal and Griffiths’ 20th.
There was little doubt that Inverness were the superior team, though, and that was underlined when they regained the lead.
Josh Meekings’ free-kick was headed on by Foran for Andrew Shinnie and his shot from 18 yards spun off James McPake and inside Williams’ right-hand post.
Shinnie revealed afterwards that talks with Birmingham City are ongoing and he claimed that one of the motives for moving is to further his international career.
“It probably would help, to be honest,” he said. “There haven’t been many SPL players in the last two starting XIs for Scotland [one, in fact] so it’s obvious they feel players in England are playing at a higher level. Hopefully, then, going there will be good for my chances of being selected.”
There was, as one would expect, a late flurry from Hibs but it amounted to very little.
“I didn’t think it was a fair result,” said Hibs manager Pat Fenlon. “I’m not saying we deserved to win but we deserved to take something from the game.
“I disagree that we’re poor at home. We haven’t lost too many but it’s typical that, with Hibs, you look at the negatives. We look at the positives.
“From my point of view, the season will be a failure if we don’t finish in the top six. It would be disappointing because that was the target I set myself and the players.”
Hibernian (r to l): Williams; Clancy, McPake, McGivern, Stevenson (Wotherspoon 83); Taiwo (Cairney 62), Deegan (Robertson 72), Thomson, Harris; Doyle, Griffiths. Unused subs: Murdoch, Claros, Handling, Forster.
Inverness: Reguero, Raven, G Shinnie, Jones, McKay, Draper, Foran, A Shinnie (Ross 90), Meekings, Doran, Devine. Unused subs: Mathieson, Sutherland, Polwarth, Pepper, Gibbons, Taylor.