DESPITE finding goals so hard to come across, Hibernian have now made it to fourth in the league – and it would be higher were it not for last Monday’s distressingly abject defeat to St Johnstone.
Scorer: Hibernian - Griffiths (pen 72)
Referee: W Collum
It would be churlish not to acknowledge the improvement in results from last season, though there continues to be some disquiet generated by the thought; where would they be without Leigh Griffiths?
To be fair, Griffiths was only required to score from the penalty spot here, and others could surely step up to perform this particular task in his absence. Still, few would inspire such conviction. Team-mate Ryan McGivern later observed that “we are all very confident when we see Leigh step up”. And it’s true; even in the stands there was the feeling of inevitability that Griffiths would hit the net and inflict maximum damage on St Mirren, against whom he has now scored five times this season, with Hibs having earned all nine points on offer in three clashes so far.
Griffiths is also the only player to score in the league for Hibs this year, yet it looked entirely possible he would endure frustration on Saturday. One burst of magic out on the wing in the first-half, which saw him beat two St Mirren defenders before rifling in a shot that bashed the post after Craig Samson had managed to reach it with a fingertip, was the sum total of Hibs’ shots on target in the opening 44 minutes. Not that St Mirren were much better, although Graham Carey should have at least hit the target with a far post header, while Esmael Goncalves forced Ben Williams into a block at his neat post on the stroke of half-time.
For long periods, Griffiths cut a forlorn figure as he operated as lone striker, in a formation manager Pat Fenlon might now be more inclined than ever to place his faith in, since the desired result was achieved. However, there was not much else to commend it, although a defence in which Lewis Stevenson showed up well at right-back did have a more solid look about it again.
Hibs greedily accepted a possibly fortunate victory, one that partly makes-up for last Monday’s defeat to St Johnstone. That particular reversal still rankles with Fenlon. He lamented that the points won in Paisley did not supplement those he felt could have been taken from the previous fixture had the attitude been anywhere near what it should have been.
He was more satisfied with the work ethic displayed by the players on this occasion. “We were much better, our shape was excellent, and we passed the ball particularly well in the first-half at least,” he said.
“That wasn’t us on Monday,” he added.
The result hinged on the contentious decision by Willie Collum to award Hibs a penalty midway through the second-half. To be fair to St Mirren, no-one made a significant fuss about it, either at the time or afterwards. Indeed, Hibs player Mathew Done, the player apparently felled by Jim Goodwin, seemed the most strident in his view that it had been a “harsh” decision. “But we’ll take it”, he said.
He did add that it was not a dive on his part; “there was contact”. Danny Lennon, the St Mirren manager, pointed out that Collum had been a fair judge of penalties in the recent League Cup semi-final against Celtic at Hampden, awarding one to either side. “Consistency is all we ask for,” he said. However, there was little opportunity for Collum to even things up on Saturday. St Mirren were disappointingly insipid in attack, even after switching to 4-3-3. Williams did not have much to cope with in the second-half.
“We simply didn’t perform,” said former Hibs full-back David Van Zanten, who was making his 300th appearance for St Mirreen on Saturday, in two different spells for the club. “We were poor. That includes everybody.”
He added that Tommy Craig, the St Mirren assistant manager, had told them in the dressing-room afterwards that there had been “no successes” for St Mirren that afternoon. Indeed, Craig cut a stern figure at the final whistle, ignoring each St Mirren player who walked past him and only appearing to soften when throwing an arm around Stevenson, one of his former charges at Hibs.
Van Zanten does not believe the forthcoming League Cup final with Hearts is playing on their minds yet. Indeed, this was only their first defeat since going down to Ross County in the game prior to the semi-final victory over Celtic. “Everybody knows the final is coming up but there are plenty of games left between now and then,” he said. “The Cup Final is at the back of our mind at the moment, there are different challenges just now such as the league. We want to work our way up and that’s at the forefront of our minds. When the cup game comes around we’ll deal with it.”
Ryan McGivern, the Hibs full-back, was simply glad to make some amends for last week’s result against St Johnstone. Like St Mirren, Hibs can also entertain the prospect of cup glory, although history encourages rather more caution. “We’re just taking it week by week and concentrating on trying to stay in the top six and finish as high up the table as possible,” said McGivern. “That’s the main objective for us, although obviously we have a Scottish Cup quarter-final coming up at Kilmarnock, so we have a chance to go to Hampden.
“The chance is there for us to have a good season.”