PAT Fenlon may have left Hibernian, but the problems he tried to deal with have not gone with him.
Scorers: Motherwell - McManus (23)
Bookings: Motherwell - Hutchison (sent off), Anier; Hibernian - Maybury, Hanlon
The failings Hibs showed in last week’s Edinburgh derby were again on display yesterday, chief among them being an inability to turn a good number of chances into even a single goal.
Motherwell, by contrast, seized the first scoring opportunity to come their way through Stephen McManus, and held on in the face of sustained late pressure, even when reduced to ten men following the sending-off of
Shaun Hutchinson for a trip on Paul Heffernan.
The result takes Stuart McCall’s team up to third in the table, while Hibs, who would have returned to the top six had they taken the three points, instead remain in seventh.
Heffernan, cup-tied in midweek, began on his own up front for the visitors, while Hibs’ caretaker manager Jimmy Nicholl also brought in Alan Maybury and Jordon Forster. The latter was at centre-half in place of suspended captain James McPake, with Rowan Vine and James Collins dropping out of the team that had begun the League Cup defeat by Hearts.
Hibs played assertively from the start, with the defence holding a high line. Lewis Stevenson, restored to his best position in left midfield, spent most of his time in the opposition half in the first quarter of an hour – a sign, if ever there was one, of Hibs’ attacking intentions.
It was Heffernan who had the first two chances of the game, although he did not get either on target. First he sidefooted past the post from a Kevin Thomson cross, and then he set up a good position for himself just inside
the box only to send a right-foot shot wide of goal.
The striker then turned provider, driving in a cross from the right which Stevenson threw himself at but failed to connect. Simon Ramsden had gone down injured while trying to track
Stevenson’s run, and was replaced by Fraser Kerr.
Motherwell had been almost non-existent as an attacking force up to that point, but Lionel Ainsworth changed that with an inventive run down the right. Having drifted wide, he appeared unsure whether to shoot or cross, and the ball he delivered was neither one thing nor the other, flashing past Ben Williams’ far post.
The winger showed no such indecision with his next delivery into the danger area, a corner from the right. His ball towards the near post was met by McManus, who headed home his first goal for the club with no more than token opposition from Ryan McGivern.
Things could have become worse for Hibs ten minutes later, when a through ball by John Sutton put Henri Anier in the clear. The Estonian’s shot across goal appeared to have the beating of Williams, but the goalkeeper got a touch at the last minute with his left heel, diverting the ball for a corner.
Hibs began to play with more urgency after that escape, and Scott Robertson should have equalised five minutes from the break. The midfielder did everything right in the build-up, drifting inside one man then past another, but he took a touch too many and his shot was blocked.
The same thing happened at the other end to Anier after he had beaten the offside trap. By over-running the ball he had to turn before shooting, which allowed Williams to recover his position and block the shot.
Motherwell were equally dominant at the start of the second half, but without putting any real pressure on the Hibs defence.
The home team were forced into a second change through injury when Stevie Hammell injured a leg, and Zane Francis-Angol took his place.
Nicholl then made his first change, introducing Abdellah Zoubir in place of Tom Taiwo in a bid to get more width and pace into his team.
The Frenchman soon livened things up a bit, laying on a chance for Liam Craig that Gunnar Nielsen was able to turn round the post for a corner. But Zoubir went on to give possession away too easily, and continues to look like the sort of luxury player who can only be effective in short bursts at best.
After Iain Vigurs came on for James McFadden for the hosts, Nicholl made a less orthodox switch by substituting Vine for McGivern. Stevenson fell back into defence and Vine joined Heffernan up front, forcing Motherwell’s central defenders to work harder than they had needed to up to that point.
With time running out for Hibs, they were presented with an excellent chance when Shaun Hutchinson tripped Heffernan right on the edge of the box and in a very central position.
The big centre-half was shown a straight red for the offence, and Hibs appeared to be planning something special when they put James Collins on for Maybury before the free kick was taken. But, whatever they had planned, the outcome was banal,
as Vine launched the free kick straight at the wall.
As stoppage time approached, Collins had an excellent chance to equalise when he got the ball in space on the right of the box, but he shot wide when it looked easier to hit the target. Heffernan then had a well-struck shot saved by Nielsen.
Those incidents summed up a disappointing afternoon for the Edinburgh club while, for an injury-ravaged Motherwell, this was a welcome return to winning ways after their own midweek disappointment in going out of the League Cup at the hands of ten-man Aberdeen.