A BEMUSED Farid El Alagui admits that, of all the prospective candidates at Hibernian, goalkeeper Mark Oxley is the last man he ever expected to be vying with for top goalscorer honours, even at this early stage of the campaign.
Scorers: Hibernian - El Alagui (16), Oxley (19); Livingston - Gallagher (60)
The French-Moroccan saw his maiden strike for the club spectacularly overshadowed by the on-loan Hull City keeper, whose almighty punt from his own box bounced over the head of poor Darren Jamieson and into the net.
Eschewing the seemingly established protocol of muted celebrations in respect for your opposite number when such flukes occur, Oxley celebrated like it was 1988 – the last time a Hibs goalkeeper, one Andy Goram, achieved the same feat against Morton.
“I was not expecting to have to compete with the goalkeeper to be top scorer this season,” El Alagui said with a smile. “I think the bookmakers might have an eye on that one.”
Prescient words from the former Falkirk and Dundee United attacker, given Scottish company McBookie added Oxley to the running to be the league’s top marksman just 24 hours later. A mere 10,000/1 if anyone is feeling lucky.
“What can you say? I have never been involved in a game where that has happened,” continued the 29-year-old. “I was amazed but really happy for Mark. He was buzzing and jumping about in the dressing room shouting: ‘That’s right, I scored, it was me!’
“Mark is a really good goalkeeper and obviously has a terrific kick, and with this one we managed to get a bit lucky. There was a mix up between the goalie and the defender and they were not sure what to do, so I just tried to get between them and when the bounce came he was not expecting it. I think maybe I deserve half a goal for the distraction!”
If Oxley’s goal was audacious, then El Alagui’s was cathartic.
He endured a frustrating competitive debut for Hibs on Tuesday evening, missing two gilt-edged opportunities against Rangers in the Petrofac Training Cup defeat at Ibrox. However, he showed no ill-effects on Saturday as he rose highest to convert a Liam Craig corner to open the scoring at Easter Road.
As Hibs attempt to find redemption following a disastrous campaign last term, it is fitting that El Alagui has shown his own powers of recovery following what could have been a morale-sapping debut at Ibrox.
“My goal was actually a similar chance to the one on Tuesday, but this time I managed to put the ball in the net,” he continued.
“That is the life of a striker – you miss some chances and it could make your head drop. But the good thing is that, in football, you always get a chance to come back. I would have loved to score at Ibrox, but that is not finished – I will go back to Ibrox this season and hopefully score next time.”
A slick first-half display provided the Easter Road faithful with a thoroughly entertaining afternoon in the Leith sunshine, something of a rarity in recent times. This was, after all a first league win at home since February.
Oxley said: “I’m buzzing, more so for the three points. It’s the perfect start and sets the benchmark for what we want to do. Usually I like to put it on the deck and kick it from there but there was a lad standing near me so he made my mind up really.
“I just looked to hit Farid [El Alagui], there was a bit of indecision between the goalkeeper and defender, and when it bounced like it did, it put them in trouble. I’m delighted with it.”
Aside from the joviality of Oxley being serenaded with “he scores when he wants” while being urged to shoot every time he had the ball in hand, there were also good chances for El Alagui, Alex Harris and Jordon Forster.
They are not the finished article yet, but there were flicks, flair and efforts on goal from Alan Stubbs’ Hibs, as they showed an intent to entertain.
“This is what we want to see this season, a good style of football,” explained El Alagui. “There will be times when it is not possible to play that way but we will always try and I think the crowd appreciate that.” The ghosts of last season, however, will not be exorcised in one afternoon. When Livingston halved arrears through Declan Gallagher – with the big defender reacting swiftest to tap home after a Kyle Jacobs shot was tipped on to the bar by Oxley – the nervousness was palpable.
Former Hearts striker Gary Glen fluffed a fine opportunity, while Oxley earned his salary in more conventional fashion by denying Danny Mullen.
Livingston manager John McGlynn rued: “We feel we did enough to get a point out of the game. One goal is a cheap header from a corner kick, which is bad marking.
“The second goal is a total fluke, there is no way he meant that. ”