FOR the second weekend in a row, Hibs showed their character, scoring another last-gasp goal.
Hibernian - 1
Queen of the South - 0
Last weekend it was enough to give them a draw, yesterday it served up all three points and took them level with Rangers at the top of the table.
The match ended acrimoniously, with players having to be separated and the referee coming under attack, but it was Rangers who were dealt the biggest blow. They had lost to Falkirk earlier in the day and that gave Hibs the extra incentive to keep pushing deep into stoppage time, David Gray’s perfect ball into the danger area allowing substitute Dominique Malonga to send a downward header past Robbie Thomson and into the net.
It sent the home fans wild and justified Hibs’ faith in themselves and their ability to make a real tussle of the Championship but it lit the touchpaper on a volatile final couple of minutes, with the guests enraged at the way referee Brian Colvin had handled the drop ball situation which led to the goal. In his last game as a match official, he provided the fireworks to mark the occasion.
With Fraser Fyvie trying to foil a Mark Millar breakaway, the official stopped the play to demand attention for Kyle Hutton who had sustained a head knock. It meant the Queen of the South player had to leave the park temporarily, which was enough to infuriate the away bench and he added insult to injury with a drop ball that looked to favour Hibs defender Liam Fontaine and permitted Hibs to push forward for the winner.
“The ref goes to restart play and having seen it back it looks like he rolls the ball in Liam Fontaine’s path,” said frustrated Queen of the South manager James Fowler. “That can happen if you’ve had possession before but Mark is chasing Fyvie into the corner and got him under pressure. I think he said Mark Millar was time-wasting. But the way it pans out we can’t get Kyle back on for the restart. I don’t know why. I think the ref said he couldn’t hear. I don’t think that’s a great excuse when they have the comms and we lose the goal from that. It’s frustrating because I thought we played really well.”
It was a bitter pill for the visitors, who had stifled Hibs on a day when, for the majority of the game, they were lacking that little something extra needed to get the ball in the back of the net.
“I thought it was one of those games where we were on the periphery of doing something,” said Hibs gaffer Alan Stubbs. “We were nearly a pass from getting in, we were nearly on the end of a cross, we were nearly on a through ball. Players have off days and we had a few who had off days today, but it’s no big deal. But most importantly we found a way to win. We’re there and we’re not going away. I think people might start to believe us now.”
It was a bold battle cry as they head into next week’s head-to-head with main rivals Rangers, with the momentum seemingly with the capital team. They are now 17 games unbeaten and having clawed back the gap between themselves and the Ibrox team, they know they have the opportunity to take the lead in the title race.
But they left it late yesterday, unable to find a way past their visitors. It prompted anxiety in the stands, with fans fearing that it was a case of Hibs’ past vulnerabilities and inability to find the jugular when it matters most, showing face again. But there is more grit in this squad, their fighting qualities evident in the way they never gave up scrapping for the points and stood their ground as the ugliness kicked off in the dying minutes.
Malonga, who had come on in the 67th minute along with Henri Anier, appeared to be punched by an opponent in the aggravation of the final few minutes and had to be pulled away, but the substitutions had been key to the pressure Hibs were able to apply as the clock ticked down and both were involved in the goal. It proved what Stubbs has been saying all along, that the title race was far from over and that he had a squad, not just a team to draw on, to ensure Rangers won’t have it all their own way.
Yesterday the match finished with a flurry of testosterone-fuelled posturing and he had to step in to calm a few disagreements at the final whistle. But once the dust settles he will be more than pleased with his own players’ battling qualities.
Hibs: Oxley, Gray, McGregor, Fontaine, Stevenson, Fyvie, Henderson, McGinn, Keatings (Feruz 83), Boyle (Malonga 67), Cummings (Anier 67).
Substitutes not used: Reguero, Hanlon, Stanton, Forster.
Queen of the South: Thomson, Kidd, Dowie, Higgins, Marshall, Jacobs, Hutton, Millar, Conroy (Brownlie 87), Lyle (Pickard 81), Russell (A Smith 75)..
Substitutes not used: Atkinson, Rutherford, Moxon, Coogans.
Referee: Brian Colvin