TERRY Butcher has repeatedly warned that his transformation of Hibernian is only beginning and his team proved as much here with a late lapse that led to the loss of two points.
DUNDEE UNITED: Goodwillie 83′ Graham 90′
HIBS: Craig 38′, 61′ (pen)
Hibs’ record since Boxing Day had been three wins out of three and they looked sure to make it four when they went 2-0 up after an hour through Liam Craig’s second goal of the afternoon. But Dundee United, whose own results since Christmas had been as dismal as Hibs’ had been excellent, hit back with two late goals. Even after three losses on the trot, the quality of their individual players is undiminished and, yesterday, Everton’s Roberto Martinez became the latest English Premier League manager to travel to Dundee to see it for himself.
Although United left it late, there was little between the teams in open play. The game was finely poised before an error by Mark Wilson led to Craig’s opener and, on another day, John Souttar might have got away with the push on James Collins that allowed Craig to score his second from the penalty spot.
Substitute David Goodwillie breathed new hope into United with a goal eight minutes from the end in his last appearance at Tannadice of his loan spell and then, just as Hibs looked like holding on for the win, Brian Graham stepped up to equalise.
Paul Heffernan, starting a game for the first time following injury after having come off the bench in the Edinburgh derby, had the first chance of the game in the tenth minute. Craig’s angled chip in from the left got behind the defence, but the striker’s first touch knocked the ball back infield and United were able to clear the danger. Craig also produced the next chance five minutes later from a corner, which Collins met with a downward header at the back post, only to see former Hibs midfielder John Rankin clear off the line.
Unchanged from their defeat by Aberdeen, the home team were out to end that run of three losses, and did not appear to have had their confidence unduly dented by those results. Their first scoring opportunity came midway through the half, when a Nadir Ciftci
35-yard shot from a Ryan Gauld free kick was saved, albeit with the odd fumble, by Ben Williams.
In terms of open play the game was very even, but Hibs continued to pose a real threat from set-pieces – a much-improved feature of their play since Butcher became manager. A Paul Cairney corner was the next delivery to cause United problems and Michael Nelson’s subsequent header was goalbound until Radoslaw Cierzniak, all at sea when the ball came over, recovered quickly to save.
Hibs were dominating territorially by that stage, but they were nearly undone by a couple of swift counter-attacks. First Stuart Armstrong had the ball in the net from a Ryan Gauld pass but only after the offside flag had gone up.
Then Williams got into a fankle when attempting to deal with a Ciftci through ball intended for Gary Mackay-Steven. The goalkeeper’s fresh-air kick allowed the United player to nip in and, when Williams grabbed hold of his opponent on the edge of the penalty box, the consequences could have been serious. But the offside flag was up again, averting any potential punishment.
Just as the first half looked to be petering out without a goal, an error by Wilson was swiftly punished by Hibs. The full-back’s attempted pass out of defence was cut off by Heffernan, who spotted Craig setting off on a run into the box. The Irishman’s pass was perfectly weighted and Craig found the net with a low left-foot shot from ten yards.
United were forced into a change minutes before the break when Brian Graham took over from the injured Ciftci, and they opted to make another before the second half began, Sean Dillon coming on for Wilson.
They were first to show on the resumption, as Gauld shot wide at the end of a promising passing move but Hibs were soon back into their stride. At that stage it looked as if a second goal would be enough to end the contest and the visitors nearly got it eight minutes in, when a snapshot by Heffernan went just wide of the left-hand post.
Goodwillie came on for Gauld as United tried to get back on terms but, before the striker could become involved, Hibs scored from the penalty spot. Souttar made contact with Collins, who went down, and Steven McLean did not hesitate in pointing to the spot. Craig took the kick, and, as he had done against Hearts three days earlier, scored with a well-placed shot low to the goalkeeper’s left.
There was still some work for Hibs to do if they were to prevent a nervous ending to the game and, with 15 minutes left, Williams pulled off an excellent reflex save after Paul Hanlon had sliced a Mackay-Steven cross towards his own net. The keeper could not stop United getting a goal back shortly thereafter, though, when Graham made headway down the right and crossed low for Goodwillie to prod home on the turn.
A minute from time, the two players combined to produce the equaliser. Goodwillie’s shot from the edge of the area appeared to be blocked but Graham was there to stab it past Williams and grab a point for his team.