SOMETIMES the smallest step can make the most significant imprint on a team’s season.
Hibernian 1-1 Partick Thistle
Scorers: Hibernian - Stanton (88); Partick Thistle - Doolan (8)
Grabbing a point with an 88th minute equaliser is hardly cause for unbridled euphoria but from the perspective of a Hibernian side who had been in freefall before Saturday, the moment Sam Stanton’s header finally breached the resistance of the outstanding Partick Thistle goalkeeper Paul Gallacher may come to be regarded as crucial.
It leaves Premiership survival firmly in Hibs’ own hands ahead of their two remaining fixtures and could be secured as soon as tomorrow night in Dingwall if they can fashion a victory over fellow stragglers Ross County.
Perhaps just as crucial as the point Terry Butcher’s men grabbed at Easter Road was the manner in which it was achieved. Branded “soft and spoiled” recently by their own goalkeeper Ben Williams as they were dragged into the relegation equation, there was no shortage of grit and desire about their work here.
Their reaction to the early loss of a goal to Thistle’s leading scorer Kris Doolan was in stark contrast to the almost meek acceptance of their plight which had characterised too many of their previous performances.
Displaying an intensity of purpose which earned the approval of the home support, they placed Thistle under sustained bouts of pressure and could regard themselves as deeply unfortunate not to restore parity before half-time.
It was only the inspired form of former Scotland ’keeper Gallacher which denied them. The 34-year-old made two saves in quick succession from Michael Nelson which were especially impressive – showing great reactions to touch a fierce close range shot from the defender over the top, then surpassing that when he flicked out his right hand to divert a header onto the post. Little wonder that Butcher entered his post-match media conference bellowing: “Where’s Gallacher? I’m going to wring his neck!”.
Yet it was a contribution from Williams which was perhaps the most crucial in the final analysis, the Hibs ’keeper producing a decent save in first half stoppage time to prevent Chris Erskine doubling Thistle’s lead.
It would have been difficult to envisage Hibs recovering from a 2-0 deficit, especially when they lost the influential Kevin Thomson just two minutes into the second half with an injury which may threaten his participation in the final two games of the campaign.
It looked even bleaker for the home side when they were reduced to ten men in the 80th minute, Nelson collecting his second yellow card of the afternoon for a foul on Lyle Taylor. When Gallacher maintained his aura of impregnability with a brilliant stop to keep out Liam Craig’s free-kick and then a brave save at the feet of James Collins, the visitors looked on course for a precious victory in their own bid to avoid the play-off spot.
But Hibs were rewarded for their persistence when Stanton reacted quickest to a Collins flick-on inside the penalty area, stealing between Gallacher and his defenders to loop a close range header over the advancing ’keeper into the net.
While Butcher’s men now head to the Highlands in pursuit of Premiership security tomorrow night, Thistle will travel back along the M8 on Wednesday to face Hearts at Tynecastle in search of what could be an equally critical result.
Although Alan Archibald’s men would surely have settled for a point at Easter Road beforehand, there was little doubt they were the more deflated set of players at the final whistle after conceding such a late leveller.
“It feels more like a defeat even though we’ve walked away with a point, which could be a very good point,” said Thistle scorer Doolan who had to leave the action just ten minutes after his goal which saw him injure his shoulder as he reached a Kallum Higginbotham through ball just before Williams to ricochet an effort into the net.
“If we could have got a second goal we could have put the game to bed. We had a chance just before half-time through Chris Erskine which I saw just as I was coming back out from the changing room after treatment on the shoulder. I thought that was going to be the second but it wasn’t to be. We’ll pick ourselves up and go again on Wednesday.
“My shoulder’s sore, a bit stiff just now. Hopefully I’ll be able to shake it off. I went over the top of the goalie and landed funny. I heard a crack at the top of my shoulder. I didn’t want to come off at all. I was hoping to just shake it off but I just couldn’t. I was really struggling to move so it was best to come off. The doc said I should be okay for Wednesday. Hopefully over the next few days it loosens off a bit. I’ll do everything I can to play in this game.
“If we can stay up that’s the be-all-and-end-all for us. That’s been the main aim since the start. If we can escape the play-off place I’ll be delighted.”
BT Sport Q&A: Rangers | Hibs | Neil Lennon
THIS week’s BT Sport video Q&A looks at whether Rangers fans will buy season tickets and if the club’s supporters will force a change of ownership.
The form of Hibs under Terry Butcher is also examined following the Easter Road side’s derby defeat while the future of Neil Lennon is also considered following the announcement that his assistant Johan Mjallby is to depart at the end of the season.
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