THE sooner the two Edinburgh clubs extricate themselves from the Championship, the better for all concerned. Hearts have long since proved that they are too strong for Scotland’s second tier. So, too, are Hibs, a top-flight team in all but name.
Scorers: Hibernian - Dja Djedje 29; Malonga 32, 56
This was their 11th game unbeaten. They have lost only once since September. Had it not been for their dodgy start to the campaign, followed by a few unnecessary draws, they would be challenging Hearts for the title instead of praying that the play-offs will spare them another season of mismatches like these.
Two goals by Dominique Malonga and one by Franck Dja Djedje did not reflect the yawning chasm between the teams at Easter Road yesterday – Dumbarton barely made it over their opponents’ 18-yard line.
There was a header on target by Garry Fleming midway through the second half, but it was not firm enough to warm Mark Oxley’s frozen fingers on a day when Hibs jumped back into second place, two points clear of Rangers, who have played three games fewer. “They were very professional,” said Alan Stubbs, the Hibs manager. “They dominated from start to finish. The scoreline could have been a lot more.”
Hibs were without the suspended Liam Craig, as well as Scott Allan, who has a chest infection, but Fraser Fyvie was a more-than-capable deputy in midfield, where he ran the show alongside Scott Robertson and Dylan McGeouch. A bright performance by Keith Watson, the right-back on loan from Dundee United, repaid Stubbs for choosing him ahead of David Gray. “It’s a nice position that I’m in,” said Stubbs. “I have to make decisions. It wasn’t a call between David and Keith. I’m trying to manage the squad because, hopefully, we are going to be busy in the run-in. We’re still involved in the cup. I want them to be as fresh as possible.”
Hibs were a while in getting started, but when they did, there was no stopping them. After half an hour of disjointed, forgettable football, they scored twice in three minutes, both goals courtesy of a cross by Watson. The full-back’s first picked out Da Djedje, who had his back to goal. When Scott Agnew fluffed a chance to clear, the striker adjusted his body and popped his shot into the bottom corner.
Da Djedje set off to celebrate with his manager on the touchline, where Watson would soon be rampaging again. When the defender curved in a second, deeper cross, Malonga had enough time and space to twist his neck and direct a header into the far corner. Malonga, who had not scored for Hibs since mid-December, thanks mainly to the Africa Cup of Nations, dropped to the ground in mock relief. By the time he got up, another chance was on its way. Fyvie’s break and pass set up the striker at the back post but his dink beyond the goalkeeper drifted wide. Having offered nothing in attack, Dumbarton now looked equally bereft at the back. Danny Handling’s effort was easily saved, but Danny Rogers had to be alert in beating away Fyvie’s angled thump.
Watson was almost rewarded for his wing work when he cut inside and released a shot that deflected off Stuart Findlay’s boot. The wrong-footed goalkeeper stayed on his feet long enough to block.
Dumbarton were expected to respond, but there was no sign of it. Watson had a penalty claim rejected after Scott Linton brought him down in the box. Then came Hibs’ third, the product of a midfield surge by Robertson. After his one-two with McGeouch, he picked out Malonga, who politely hesitated to see if Handling fancied a shot. When his team-mate declined, Malonga scuffed it in off a defender’s leg.
Malonga, Handling and Dja Djedje all missed the target as the procession continued. Dja Djedje looked set for his second goal when Malonga and Fyvie combined to set him up, but Mark Wilson nicked it from his toes. Then the striker had a powerful drive punched away by the goalkeeper. By the time Paul Hanlon’s header was being cleared off the line by Agnew, Ian Murray, the Dumbarton manager, just wanted it all to be over. “We lacked belief right from the start,” he said. “We could have got a real hiding. To come away with a 3-0 flattered us.”
Hibs: Oxley, Watson, Hanlon, Fontaine, Stevenson (Gray 82), Robertson, Handling (Duthie 86), McGeouch, Fyvie, Malonga (Boyle 81), Dja Djedje.
Dumbarton: Rogers, Wilson, Taggart, Finflay, Linton (Petrie 81), Gilhaney (Turner 59), Agnew, Fleming, Easton (Duggan 59), Megginson, Campbell.
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