HIBS deservedly took the three points against a lacklustre Alloa side that parked the bus at Easter Road. Literally so, as the Alloa players were heading to Newcastle by train for their Christmas night out after a match whose memory they will consign to the fog on the Tyne.
Scorers: Hibernian - Handling (28), Malonga (73)
A minute’s applause was held beforehand for John Baxter, who made more than 300 appearances for Hibs in the 1950s and 60s and who has died at the age of 78.
There were all of 103 Alloa fans in the crowd, officially. Now you know why Clackmannanshire’s called the Wee County.
Hibs made two changes, Dominique Malonga and Liam Craig replacing Paul Heffernan and Sam Stanton who both started on the bench. Alloa lost to Hibs a fortnight ago and knew they were in for a tough afternoon, hence their 4-5-1 defensive formation from the outset.
Hibs had by far the better of the early play but could do nothing with their possession and territorial advantages, apart from a tame Liam Fontaine header that Alloa goalkeeper Craig McDowell gathered with almost contemptuous ease.
With David Gray and Lewis Stevenson probing down either wing, and the Hibs midfield keeping the pressure on their opponents incessantly, Alloa were forced to defend in depth, and the tactic was effective for much of the match, though they displayed little confidence in attack – “they showed a lack of belief,” said manager Barry Smith, “and that’s the first time I have had to say that this season.”
Almost a quarter of the match had trudged by before there was a semblance of a real chance. Danny
Handling’s adroit pass into the Alloa box was chased by Dominique Malonga, but McDowell ran from his goal and threw himself lengthwise to block the striker’s effort. Soon afterwards, Paul Hanlon looked set to score but his header off a Scott Allan corner was deflected wide.
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The writing was on the wall in block letters, however. After 28 minutes, the ever-lively Jason Cummings cut inside and smacked a fierce low shot which McDowell could not hold, the ball rebounding to Handling, who stretched out a leg to score.
Alloa’s first serious chance came after 32 minutes when Stephen Simmons curled a shot goalwards that Fontaine headed wide. Perhaps reacting in frustration, Simmons was booked seconds later for a needless block on Cummings.
Scott Robertson should have made it two in 34 minutes when he burst into the box with only the goalkeeper to beat but McDowell foiled his soft effort. At the other end, Eddie Ferns was sent clear on the right by Mark Docherty, but he elected to shoot, and miss wide, rather than feed his forwards inside.
On 40 minutes Hibs put together a flowing move that dissected Alloa’s defence, Allan firing just wide after Gray’s clever cutback gave him space.
The visitors looked more sprightly at the start of the second period but the first two chances of the half were shots from distance by Allan and Robertson that McDowell dealt with efficiently.
After Gray went off with a recurrence of a groin injury, Allan almost scored direct from a corner after 57 minutes, McDowell punching the ball over.
On the hour mark Hibs burst upfield in numbers but Cummings shot well past the post rather than pass to his fellow attackers.
Perhaps it was the cold, or perhaps that’s too generous, but the error count by individuals became very noticeable.
Ben Gordon had been quite safe in defence until he inexplicably sent the ball wide to Cummings on the Hibs right wing. The striker clearly couldn’t believe his luck as he charged towards goal, only to shoot just past the far post.
With Alloa stretched, a second Hibs goal began to appear inevitable, and it duly arrived after 73 minutes, albeit in fluke fashion. The ball buzzed about the Alloa box until Malonga stuck out a leg and sclaffed the ball in a loop over McDowell.
Cummings almost made it three shortly afterwards, his shot blasting wide, before Fontaine’s goalbound bullet header off an Allan corner was safely in McDowell’s arms before the goalkeeper knew it.
Hibs eventually coasted home, manager Alan Stubbs hailing a rare home win: “We have been controlling a lot of home games but we’ve just not seen them across the line. Hopefully today will be the catalyst to try and address our home form.”
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