HIBS haven’t been to Recreation Park, Alloa, on league business since the war years and after this limp performance the fans won’t be hurrying back over the Clackmannanshire Bridge.
Scorers: Alloa Athletic - Buchanan 56; Flannigan 85; Hibernian - Cummings 15
The defeat leaves them staring up at leaders Hearts, nine points ahead, and left manager Alan Stubbs rueing his team’s disinclination to get involved in the unglamorous aspects of a football match.
“That’s the most disappointing performance since I came to the club,” Stubbs said. “We got ourselves into a lead but I didn’t think we were doing enough at 1-0. We didn’t do enough of the dirty jobs. We didn’t win enough tackles. We didn’t win enough second balls.
“When a performance dips you expect to see your team roll their sleeves up and dig in. I didn’t see enough of that today.”
For Hibs fans, growing accustomed to Championship life, there’s the compensation of a number of away games being easy to hit, less than an hour to get there, a wee day out, and this was one. With a view of the Ochils to the left of the main stand and the local KFC to the right, Recreation Park also offered old-school terracing.
Hibs, wearing black armbands for the late Bobby Kinloch who scored in a famous 1961 win over Barcelona that’s still sung about, were slow to get going on the artificial pitch. Alloa, with a man in their ranks – Ryan McCord – who played against Barca more recently when at Dundee United, won the first corner before Jordon Forster had to be alert to hook away from Greig Spence.
But then Hibs scored. Matthew Kennedy was finding room to roam, cutting in from the left. He linked with the ever-willing David Gray to set up Farid El Alagui who headed narrowly wide. Then in 14 minutes the same pair combined for Jason Cummings at the near post. His header was on target, a deflection from Daryll Meggatt making sure.
Hibs gained a measure of control after that without coming anywhere near to a stranglehold on a woozy game in the late-summer sunshine. Kennedy and Scott Allan, both neat footballers, seemed to appreciate the perfect surface. But a slip by the new man in defence, Liam Fontaine, let in Liam Buchanan for a shot which Forster deflected over with his head.
Then a squirty effort from Kevin Cawley was touched round a post by Mark Oxley. The keeper made a save for the cameras – tragically not present – to repel a sweetly-hit left-footer from McCord. And then Stephen Simmons shot just over the bar. Simmons, ex-Hearts, normally gets a lusty round of boos from Hibs fans but not yesterday. Standards have obviously slipped.
Just before half-time El Alagui was stretchered off. He seemed to twist awkwardly on the artificial surface, and was replaced by Paul Heffernan. Then Cawley, Alloa’s buzziest Wasp, put in Spence for Forster to once again pop up in the right place to block. Cawley tried himself with a header on the whistle but the same Hibs man just did what he does.
The warnings for Hibs had been there but they resumed after the break sluggishly and in 56 minutes a Meggatt header from a Cawley cross was palmed out by Oxley and Buchanan lashed home from six yards. Five minutes later Buchanan crossed and Forster had to make his umpteenth interception. This one was a bit too close to Oxley for comfort. In fact, if the keeper hadn’t blocked it Alloa would have gone into the lead.
Alloa were fizzy; Hibs were footering. Change was needed and on came Alex Harris for Kennedy and Danny Handling for Cummings.
The omnipresent Forster contrived a chance, popping the ball onto his right foot for a volley which went narrowly over the bar, but Alloa remained the more dangerous.
Hibs’ ineffectual performance was punished six minutes from time. Man-of-the-match Cawley was fouled bang on the edge of the box. Iain Flannigan, who’d replaced Simmons a minute earlier, bent the free-kick over the wall and past Oxley with his right foot – his very first touch.
Alloa manager Barry Smith thought his side deserved their win and he was right. “I told them not to be overawed by Hibs and at the start I think they were,” he said. “But after that they found their feet. It was a great performance.”
Alloa Athletic: McDowall; Doyle, Meggatt, Gordon, Docherty; Cawley, McCord, Simmons (Flannigan 83), Holmes; Buchanan (Hetherington 90+1), Spence.
Hibernian: Oxley; Gray, Forster, Fontaine, Stevenson; Craig, Allan; Kennedy (Harris 64), Stanton, Cummings (Handling 64); El Alagui (Heffernan 40).
Referee: S Finnie. Attendance: 2,476.