HIBS manager Terry Butcher talked about finding some balls on a pre-match stroll along the beach but the more pleasing thing as far as he was concerned was the fact that his players seem to have found theirs.
Hibernian 1 - 1 Partick Thistle
Scorers: Hibernian; Stanton 88, Partick; Doolan 8
Deep in the mire, they finally unearthed the kind of battling qualities needed to dig their way out of it. Going behind in the eighth minute to a Kris Doolan goal, they had to wait until the 88th minute to find a way past Paul Gallacher, who had been superb, denying them with one top drawer save after another.
But, with more goal chances in one game than they have mustered in the past half a dozen, Butcher’s men got their reward late on to earn a point and the opportunity to go to Dingwall on Tuesday to get the win that would safeguard their top flight status.
If the finish to the match left Butcher feeling giddy, the opening could not have been bleaker. Kris Doolan was sent through on goal by Kallum Higginbotham, and while Ben Williams came out to challenge, the ball ricocheted off him and the striker, bobbled over him and trundled over the line before anyone in green could get back to clear.
In too many games this term, that would have been the signal for shoulders to slump and heads to go down, but the home side took it as a kick up the backside and laid siege to Gallacher’s goal.
Thistle, though, are fighting for their Premiership lives as well and that was evident as they defended their lines, the goalkeeper leading by example and everyone else getting their bodies in the way. Stanton sent a shot narrowly wide in the 14th minute, and then Jason Cummings came close.
Thistle had to replace Doolan after he failed to shake off a knock sustained in getting the goal, with Leon Taylor coming on. But still the goal threat came at the other end.
Liam Craig provoked the first in a long list of saves from Gallacher and when Scott Robertson closed in on the rebound it was a defender who nipped in ahead of him to protect his area.
By the middle of the first half, though, Hibs really piled on the pressure. Michael Nelson skelped in a volley which Gallacher got to and when it broke to Cummings, he hit the post from a tight angle. A minute later, with corner after corner raining in, Nelson again tested the Thistle keeper, and when it came to Craig he couldn’t get it to break for him and another chance was lost. Ryan McGivern then tested the waters from a Kevin Thomson corner. But no one could get past the determined Thistle rearguard.
“I really hate Paul Gallacher,” said Butcher afterwards. “Every game he plays against me he does well! He just makes wonderful saves, he’s a top keeper. I’m going to make him retire or wring his neck!
“Because of him we’ve played some lovely football in two matches and only got one point, but it’s such a valuable one. It feels like a win.”
It was a vital point and one that was jeopardised further when Michael Nelson was sent off for his second yellow card after felling Aaron Sinclair. But even after going down to ten men, the home side still had the better of the play, with the guests relying on their counter-attacking ability.
“When I came here, I thought the F in Hibs FC stood for frustration,” said Butcher. “It’s the most frustrating time of my career and then you look at the saves Gallacher made and you think ‘is it never going to fall for us?’ But then we got one bit of good fortune and Sam Stanton scores. Maybe the luck’s turning. I had a walk this morning on North Berwick West golf course and I found two balls, maybe I need to find four or five for a win. The game on Tuesday is now a fantastic challenge for us.”
Thistle were left to rue what might have been. One goal up, they had a breakaway on the verge of half-time, when Chris Erskine and Taylor linked up but they couldn’t capitalise and as they sat back deeper and deeper as the game wore on, they invited Hibs on to them.
“Of course it was self-inflicted,” said the visibly disappointed Gallacher. “I’ve watched the goal back and we should have cleared the ball initially. If we press the ball higher we would have stopped it at the source. But we’ve allowed the cross to come into the box and the rest is history now.”
Substitute James Collins rose abover Conrad Balatoni and the inrushing Stanton latched on to it and sent it looping over the, for once, helpless keeper.
It has been said that, over the course of a season, teams get what they deserve. Over the course of this one it was no more than Hibs were due, even it it did seem very hard on the goalkeeping nemesis.
BT Sport Q&A: Rangers | Hibs | Neil Lennon
THIS week’s BT Sport video Q&A looks at whether Rangers fans will buy season tickets and if the club’s supporters will force a change of ownership.
The form of Hibs under Terry Butcher is also examined following the Easter Road side’s derby defeat while the future of Neil Lennon is also considered following the announcement that his assistant Johan Mjallby is to depart at the end of the season.
• Email your Scottish football question for the BT Sport panel to answer. The next show will be recorded on May 7 after St Johnstone v Celtic, which will also be shown live on BT Sport, with the video available on The Scotsman website the following day. You can also tweet us @TheScotsman.
A line-up of experts will handle your questions after each BT Sport game. Most match days, the team includes Darrell Currie, Derek Rae and Gary McAllister.
Over this season, BT Sport will air 30 SPFL matches plus 10 Rangers games from the SPFL League One.
• T&C We can not guarantee which presenters will answer your questions. Questions are vetted and no correspondence will be entered into.