AFTER their uncertain start to life in the Championship, this League Cup tie should have been a chance for Hibernian to rediscover some much-needed confidence. Instead, they used it as an occasion to showcase some of their all-too-familiar vices, before eventually prevailing with an inspired fightback just when extra-time looked inevitable.
Scorers: Hibernian - El Alagui (78, 84), Stanton (90); Dumbarton - Megginson (52), Gilhaney (59)
Dumbarton, one of only two teams below Hibs in the second tier, shocked their hosts by taking a 2-0 lead in the opening quarter-hour of the second half when by rights they should have been two or three behind. Ian Murray’s side held on to that advantage until, with a dozen minutes to go, Farid El Alagui scored the first of a quick-fire double that brought his team back into the tie. Substitute Sam Stanton then rounded off the victory with an excellent run and shot from the edge of the box on the verge of stoppage time.
By that stage it had seemed apparent that Hibs would prevail, but Dumbarton can count themselves unlucky not to have taken the game into extra time. They played in disciplined fashion, kept their shape well, and took their chances with relish – three aspects of the game in which Hibs were at times lacking.
That might have been different had they taken the early lead which their confident start promised. There were only six minutes on the clock when a slip-up in the Dumbarton defence allowed the ball to break to El Alagui. Alex Harris took the ball on into the six-yard box but drifted too wide to shoot, and instead could only deliver a low cross which was easily cut out.
El Alagui was involved again ten minutes later when a Scott Allan cross found him deep in the box. He headed back across the area for Danny Handling, whose header was too soft to trouble Danny Rodgers in the Dumbarton goal.
By midway through the first half Hibs were creating openings every few minutes, with Allan responsible for much of the creative build-up from midfield. But even against a defence of modest abilities, they displayed their old failing of being unable to finish clinically. Dumbarton were by no means penned into their own half during the first 4half, but when they did threaten further upfield they did little to trouble a Hibs defence in which Liam Fontaine was making his debut at left centre-half. Signed from Bristol City earlier in the day on a one-year contract, Fontaine arrived as Michael Nelson left for Cambridge.
Fontaine looked to have settled in well alongside Jordon Forster during the first 45 minutes, and – at the risk of damning him with faint praise – was notably more composed in his distribution than Nelson. But that composure slowly evaporated after the break when Dumbarton exploited weaknesses in the defence.
Having become impatient late in the first half as the expected breakthrough failed to materialise, Hibs had the perfect chance to steady their nerves within minutes of the restart. From 25 yards out in a central position, Handling found Harris on the right with a neatly angled pass. Harris had time and should at least have shot on target, but instead could only find the side netting.
Galvanised by that let-off, Dumbarton took the lead minutes later thanks to a combination of hesitant defending and inspired finishing. Scott Agnew’s corner from the right was headed back across goal by Colin Nish, and Mitchel Megginson netted with an excellent volley.
The second goal also began with a corner, but this time was a lot messier. Garry Fleming’s shot from around 15 yards was blocked just short of the line, but Mark Gilhaney forced the rebound over.
The home team seemed shellshocked for a time after that, but they claimed a lifeline with a dozen minutes to play when a David Gray cross from the right was bundled in at the far post by El Alagui. The same player then equalised with a powerful header from the middle of the box after he was left unmarked to wait for a Forster cross to arrive, and that left Hibs with five minutes plus stoppage time to get the winner and avoid the extra half-hour. The five minutes were enough, as Dumbarton failed to close Stanton down and his shot found the right-hand corner.