PAT Fenlon has always said that Hibernian are far from being the finished article, and the way in which his team surrendered a two-goal lead was certainly evidence of that.
Scorers: Hibernian - Doyle (41, 55); Mothewell - Murphy (64, 80); McHugh (88)
It also showed that the manager, too, is still feeling his way in the SPL, as he made two substitutions which effectively surrendered control of the game to Motherwell.
Having gone in at half-time a goal up, Hibs doubled their advantage ten minutes into the second half and should have gone on to wrap up the three points. Instead, after Motherwell had seized a foothold in the game when Jamie Murphy, pictured above, pulled a goal back, Fenlon withdrew striker Leigh Griffiths and brought on midfielder Gary Deegan for the final 20 minutes.
The switch from 4-4-2 to 4-5-1 was designed to stifle the game in the middle of the park, but instead it denied Hibs an out ball and forced them deeper. When Eoin Doyle was taken off less than ten minutes later, that left the home team without both of their starting strikers. Motherwell equalised just three minutes after that change, then in a frantic finale grabbed what by then was a deserved winner.
Deegan was a key player for Hibs in the opening months of the season, but this was his first game back after a nine-week lay-off with a broken jaw. Fenlon has understandably been eager to get the midfielder back in the team, but given the way the game was unfolding, he would surely have been better advised to hold off for another week.
Motherwell’s role in a rousing
second half should not be understated, but there is little doubt that Hibs played into their hands. They should have scored more than three, with Bob McHugh missing an easy chance minutes before grabbing the winner, and in the final 20 minutes found opportunities all too easy to come by,
It was an incident-packed conclusion to a game which began tamely and had almost reached half-time before being brought to life by the opening goal. There were chances at both ends before that, but as it turned out the most significant incident in the first half-hour or so was the booking of James McPake, back after a month out with a back strain, for a foul on Henrik Ojamaa.
The goal was created by Griffiths, who initially lost control on the right before managing to pass inside to David Wotherspoon. The midfielder chipped a cross from the byeline towards the near post, and Doyle stooped to head home from just outside the six-yard box. The Irishman grabbed his second after the break thanks to a fine delivery from Paul Cairney, who from halfway curled a ball over the heads of the defence and into his team-mate’s path. Doyle took a touch to steady himself, then fired home a right-foot shot from 20 yards.
Motherwell had gone two behind at home to Aberdeen in the cup on Tuesday night, and got a goal back only in stoppage time. This time it took them less than ten minutes, as Chris Humphrey got past Ryan McGivern on the right and produced a low cutback which Murphy slotted in from a few yards out.
Motherwell manager Stuart McCall had moved Murphy infield, with Ojamaa going out further left, and he made a further significant change, in personnel this time, after Deegan came on. Introducing McHugh for centre-back Adam Cummins, McCall went to three at the back, and matched Hibs with five in midfield, threatening both wings.
As the visitors began to dominate, it was no surprise when they equalised ten minutes from time.
A Tom Hateley corner from the left was headed back across goal by target man Michael Higdon, and Murphy was there to nod in his
second. Humphrey can go whole games without looking dangerous and his pace is sometimes not matched by the quality of his crossing but, for much of the second half, he had the beating of McGivern and, on the other side, Ojamaa caused increasing problems for Alan Maybury. It was from the left that the
winner came. Ojamaa delivered a teasing ball, and McHugh was there to shoot home from the edge of the six-yard box. Hibs’ misery was then compounded in stoppage time
when McPake was dismissed for a second bookable offence for an
aerial challenge on Murphy.
Fenlon did not directly blame his players for what was a pretty comprehensive collapse, but he also refused to accept that his own substitutions were at fault. “We stopped playing once we scored the second goal,” he said. “We thought maybe we could see the game out and we dropped too deep. I don’t think [the Griffiths substitution] changed the game. We were under the cosh well before we took Leigh off. I didn’t think he did well today, to be honest.”
McCall was too diplomatic to
criticise his opposite number, but one remark he made told its own story. “When a team takes a striker off to go 4-5-1, we’re happy with that,” he said.
Hibs: William, Maybury, McPake, Hanlon, McGivern, Wotherspoon, Taiwo, Claros, Cairney (Handling 87), Griffiths (Deegan 70), Doyle (Caldwell 77). Substitutes not used: Murdoch, Stevenson, Stanton, Kuqi.
Motherwell: Randolph, Hateley, Hutchison, Cummins (McHugh 73), Hammell, Humphrey, Lasley, Law, Murphy, Higdon, Ojamaa (Frances-Angol 90). Substitutes not used: Hollis, Ramsden, Daley, Kerr, Hetherington.
Referee: Steven McLean