WHAT is it about Motherwell and Hibernian? In this encounter they served up a second goalfest of the season at Fir Park in a hugely entertaining ebb-and-flow encounter that had shades of their famous 6-6 draw two season ago as well as their League Cup encounter earlier in the current campaign which Hibs won on penalties after an enthralling 2-2 draw.
Motherwell’s pace and power ultimately trumped their visitors’ pluck but, in defeat, Pat Fenlon’s side could at least draw comfort from the fact they did not capitulate for the second time in a week. From holding a 1-0 half-time lead, they found themselves 4-2 down in 75 minutes, Michael Higdon bagging a two-penalty hat-trick in between.
At that point, they looked as if they could ship five goals again, as they had at home to Celtic at the weekend. Instead, Ivan Sproule brought them back into contention with a scrappy effort and thereafter they just fell short to remain ahead of bottom club Dunfermline only on goal difference. Motherwell, meanwhile, now only trail second-placed Rangers by three points on the back of a seven-game unbeaten run. It was an evening when there was enough electricity inside Fir Park to power the faulty generator that caused the abandonment of this fixture when it was originally played two months ago.
The difference between the teams was the livewire Henrik Ojamaa. He just could not be contained by the Hibs defence, Graham Stack taking him down in the 47th minute, to allow Higdon to make it 1-1 from the spot. Jamie Murphy then edged Motherwell ahead in 63 minutes when he forced in a low Omar Daley delivery but Hibs levelled just three minutes later when Matt Doherty thumped in from eight yards after a scramble. Ojamaa was heavily involved in the two goals that took Motherwell away from Hibs. The Estonian’s strike battered the crossbar, eventually dropping for Higdon to lash in his second and Motherwell’s third with an audacious overhead kick. Ojamaa was then brought down by Doherty for Higdon to complete his treble and put Motherwell 4-2 ahead. Hibs’ response thereafter merely took the form of a consolation.
This particular clash was played out in a genuine big-match atmosphere. Within five minutes of kick-off there were very few empty seats among the three stands occupied by Motherwell supporters, while the visitors also brought an impressive support. The talk pre-match may have all been about the Fir Park side having an opportunity to move to within three points of second-placed Rangers in the battle for the second Champions League qualification slot. However, it was the travelling Hibs support who were pleasantly surprised by the application and appetite of an 11 that had three changes – Sproule and Francomb replacing Wotherspoon and Kujabi, in addition to O’Connor replacing Doyle – from that which started four days earlier against Celtic. Fenlon’s side betrayed no ill-affects of that mauling and, in fact, looked as if they relished an early opportunity for atonement.
Fir Park has been a good venue for Hibs this season. And as much as it would be delightful to think that merely the magnitude of the match brought punters out in force, the numbers would not have been unrelated to the fact that the fixture was the rescheduled Friday night fiver game from December. An electrical fault caused an abandonement half an hour in with Hibs leading through O’Connor. There was an 8,000 crowd for that. They were all afforded free entry for this replay and the 8,065 who turned up were treated to a capitivating encounter. It wasn’t expected that Hibs would draw first blood, yet they did so in curious circumstances. Tom Hateley was short with a passback that Leigh Griffiths latched on to, slipping past Darren Randolph before slowly walking the ball to the byline and cutting back for Isaiah Osbourne to fire in.
Motherwell soon started forcing the play, with Daley, Ojamaa and Murphy providing a zip that gradually wore Hibs down. It was a wonder that they held out until the 47th minute, some decent Stack stops allowing that to happen, before their goal was breached four times in 28 minutes. Hibs are looking dangerously hapless as far as their top flight survival is concerned.