St Mirren 1-2 Hibernian: Leigh Griffiths leads Hibs revival
AFTER Hibs’ dismal start to the new season at Tannadice two weeks ago, any bookmaker offering even the most generous odds on them taking four points from their subsequent two fixtures against Hearts and St Mirren would have been in no danger of being crushed in a stampede.
Scorers: St Mirren - Thompson (64); Hibernian - Griffiths (14, 61)
But in their response to that most inauspicious 3-0 defeat by Dundee United, Pat Fenlon’s team has delivered two performances which suddenly allow their supporters to embrace at least cautious optimism about the campaign ahead of them.
Fenlon had stressed that the point earned from a gritty display in the Edinburgh derby would count for little if Hibs could not build on it when they travelled to Paisley. So he was entitled to be both satisfied and gratified by their hard-earned but just about merited victory at St Mirren Park.
The difference between the teams in an absorbing contest was the finishing of Leigh Griffiths, whose return to Hibs on a further loan deal from Wolves could prove as telling a piece of business as any club in the SPL does during the current transfer window.
The 21-year-old striker followed up his derby-day equaliser with a couple of excellent finishes against a Saints side who were left to rue their own profligacy in front of goal, most notably Paul McGowan’s failure from the penalty spot when they were 1-0 down.
If Griffiths can continue to attract headlines for his unquestionable ability on the pitch, rather than for gesturing to supporters or any off-the-field indiscretions, then Hibs will have a potent weapon in their quest for significant progress this season.
“He is massive for us and we need to keep him in our team,” said Hibs captain James McPake, who has known Griffiths since they were team-mates at Livingston.
“As long as we can keep him in our team and he’s not getting banned for doing daft things, then he is as big a threat as any other striker in the SPL in my book. He is as good as anyone in Scotland when he’s on his game.
“It’s just a case of trying to keep him calm. He is a diehard Hibs fan. He loves playing for the club and gets excited playing for the club. You wouldn’t want to take that away from him, but you have to try and channel it a wee bit.
“People tar him with a bit of a brush at times, but he’s great in and around the club. I don’t think you calm him down by threatening to batter him, because he’d just want to fight you. You just need to have a wee, quiet word in his ear. I’ve known him since he was 16 and I can talk to him a wee bit.
“He was pretty much the same at 16 as he is now, only you couldn’t really talk to him then. Now you can get in his ear and he listens. He’s actually a very, very nice boy. Some of the experienced lads have had a wee word with him ahead of the season. But you’ve got to give Leigh credit as well. He’s grown up himself and people forget how young he still is.
“He is a high-profile player for us in and around Edinburgh, so he does get a lot of attention. But we’ll keep him right and he’ll be fine. He has screwed the nut and it has shown in his performances. Even in the first game of the season at Tannadice, he was the only shining light in our team.”
Griffiths put Hibs in front after 15 minutes in Paisley when he collected David Wotherspoon’s cross with a terrific first touch before holding off a challenge and driving a low shot across goalkeeper Craig Samson into the corner of the net.
Hibs had much the better of the first half but needed a penalty save by goalkeeper Ben Williams, keeping out McGowan’s 34th minute effort after McPake was penalised for handball, to take their lead into the break.
“It would have been a different story if I’d scored the penalty,” reflected McGowan. “I didn’t strike it well enough and the ’keeper dived the right way. I’ll discuss with the manager whether I keep on taking the penalties. That’s my first-ever miss.”
Hibs doubled their advantage in the 61st minute, Eoin Doyle’s industry and persistence down the right setting up Griffiths for his second goal as he beat Samson with a precise low shot.
But that cushion lasted just two minutes, Steven Thompson tapping Dougie Imrie’s cross in from close range to give Saints fresh hope. Although Griffiths struck the crossbar with a free kick, Hibs spent most of the final 25 minutes on the back foot as the home side used wide men Imrie and Gary Teale to great effect in placing Fenlon’s men under extreme pressure.
Back in the dug-out for the first time this season after serving his two-match suspension, Fenlon hailed the character of his team and also recognised the improvement caused by his abandonment of the 4-2-3-1 formation he used on the opening day of the season and return to a more orthodox 4-4-2.
“The players took a lot of stick after Tannadice, but I think I got my tactics wrong there and have to take responsibility for that,” admitted Fenlon. “We have responded well by coming from a goal down against Hearts and now winning here. We have added some leaders to our team, and some experienced players, and that is something this club has been crying out for.”
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Thursday 20 June 2013
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