This is getting serious. Hibs are in a relegation play-off dogfight because too few players are willing to take responsibility.
Scorers: Aberdeen - McGinn (14, 62)
Visiting players were last night riding tackles. Home players were checking out of them. Confidence has reached a level where even completing the basics is a task too far for Terry Butcher’s side, who are now firmly locked in a cycle of defeats. Although they lost only 2-0 last night, it could easily have been twice that deficit, with Aberdeen twice hitting the woodwork. Goal difference could yet become a factor for Hibs after eight matches without a victory.
It was difficult to pretend otherwise; this game, even if it did feature the recently-crowned League Cup winners, had not captured the imagination. A healthy away following could not disguise the absence of bodies in the home stands as Hibs suffered the consequences of guaranteed bottom-six participation. There might yet be something to play for – it just isn’t the sort of nervous excitement anyone at Hibs was expecting this season.
“Going down with the Jambos,” chorused the Aberdeen supporters when Niall McGinn scored the first goal of his sumptuous double after 14 minutes – a chorus they repeated when McGinn scored his second contender for goal of the month, perhaps even season, just after the hour mark. The Aberdeen supporters mocked, the Hibs fans despaired. Can this really be happening?
Just one win in 14 games has Hibs precariously positioned four points above Partick Thistle, who are in second-bottom place. Perhaps even more significantly, of those teams going into the bottom six set of fixtures Hibs are the ones who are in the most wretched form – and that now includes Hearts.
While there was no disgrace in conceding goals as fine as McGinn’s strikes, there was shame in conceding defeat so meekly. This was a performance without any redeeming qualities – not even the last-minute alteration to the team lines could be offered up as an excuse.
There was some pre-match drama when Hibs were forced to make a late, late change, after Paul Heffernan, who was set to make only his second start since January, pulled up in the warm-up with a groin complaint. Jason Cummings had to be contacted via the Tannoy system and told to make his way to the front entrance. He was required to make a quick change into his playing gear in order to take his place among the substitutes, with James Collins promoted to the starting XI.
It was another opportunity for the struggling Collins to seek to make an impact. It is difficult to claim he took it although he was left utterly isolated up front. Butcher was spotted on more than one occasion urging his players forward in support.
On top of this enforced change, the Hibs manager had decided to make four other alterations following such a disappointing display in their last outing, against Hearts. A lot had happened in the eight days since that result, including confirmation of the Tynecastle club’s relegation and yet another hold-up to their attempts to exit administration. But the absence of any jubilation at the fate of their rivals told its own story. The home supporters are aware that they cannot delight in the agonies of across town because of the danger of being left with eggs on their faces.
Butcher attempted to spark a revival by shuffling his pack once more. Collins was dropped to the bench – and then reinstated. Skipper Liam Craig returned, as did Alex Harris and Paul Cairney. Hibs posted a fairly positive start but it quickly degenerated. The dispiriting effect of losing an opening goal after only 14 minutes was obvious and the home team quickly lost their way. Of course, there is often a sense that a team might come to regret the failure to convert as many opportunities as Aberdeen did in the opening half. But this wasn’t the case last night. Even when they were only one goal down, it was difficult to imagine Hibs making a comeback.
They were unfortunate in that McGinn will rarely hit a ball as sweetly as he did on two occasions last night. His first arrived after 14 minutes, when he collected the ball 25 yards from goal. He took a touch and then saw his left-foot shot move in the air before finding the top corner of Ben Williams’ goal. After a 19-game run without a goal, he has now scored two in three games. With Adam Rooney having made a productive start to his Aberdeen career, manager Derek McInnes is getting his wish for the goals to be shared about more.
McGinn nearly scored a second after 39 minutes when he saw his shot crash off an upright after a fine passage of Aberdeen passing. Too often they were allowed time and space to keep possession for long periods. A minute after his team-mate had hit the post, Rooney struck a shot off the same one. An intelligent cross ball from Barry Robson while almost on the touchline lit up the evening once more, and while Rooney had the right idea in hoping to steer a volleyed effort wide of Williams, he was left frustrated by the same part of the goal-frame.
His deflation could not match that of the home supporters who let forth with a round of jeers when referee Bobby Madden signalled for half-time.
Such jeers have been the backdrop to this season. The thought of Hibs overcoming a one-goal deficit was not to be borne, and the game’s outcome was made even more academic when McGinn struck a powerful half-volley high towards goal after an astute pass across the box from Rooney. The ball hit the bar, came down, and then bounced back up into the roof of the net.
Hibernian: Williams, Forster, Nelson, McGivern, Stevenson, Harris, Taiwo (Handling 72), Craig, Cairney (Watmore 84), Collins (Cummings 90), Stanton. Subs not used: Boateng, Tudur Jones, Grant, Thomson
Aberdeen: Langfield, Logan, Anderson, Considine, Reynolds, Flood, Jack, Pawlett (Smith 80), Robson (Low 90), Rooney (Vernon 89), McGinn. Subs not used: Shaughnessy,Robertson, Weaver, McManus.