Hibs fans are dreading the day when they have to say goodbye to Leigh Griffiths, but St Mirren boss Danny Lennon simply can’t wait to see the back of the Easter Road hitman.
Hotshot Griffiths has proved to be the Buddies’ nemesis this season, claiming seven goals in the four clashes between the sides, a record which, according to Lennon, should see the on-loan Wolves star return to Molineux this summer clutching PFA Scotland’s Player of the Year Award, a view which no doubt will find him at odds with his Parkhead namesake Neil.
Another brace from Griffiths, his third against St Mirren, took his tally for the season to 27, helping him close in on the record of becoming the first Hibs player in 40 years to score 30.
But this time round it wasn’t enough to secure any more than a point for Pat Fenlon’s side, denied a first SPL victory since Griffiths’ penalty in Paisley at the end of February by those depressingly familiar shortcomings which have blighted this and other seasons.
For a third time in the space of just four games, and for the ninth time this season, Fenlon’s players contrived to concede three goals, the fact that each of them was entirely avoidable only adding to the sense of frustration and disappointment.
Twice Hibs led only to be pegged back by a Saints side which has yet to haul itself totally clear of the threat of relegation before falling behind only for Griffiths to claim a late equaliser, tapping home from a yard out as he met Tom Taiwo’s driven low cross at the back post.
While it brought a measure of relief, defender Ryan McGivern insisted emerging from the game with a single point was no reason for celebration. “Definitely not,” he snapped when asked if given the timing of the goal it had left Fenlon’s players feeling they’d gained a point.
“It was more a case of two points dropped,” declared the Northern Ireland star. “We went from going in front, from being in control for large spells of the game to shooting ourselves in the foot by conceding three very sloppy goals. Thankfully we managed to at least get a point but we definitely should have been coming away with three.
“When they scored their first goal we lost our way a bit for a spell but I think the one positive was that when they went 3-2 up we did not lie down, we fought back and got the equaliser.”
If a game which swung one way then the other during the final 30 minutes provided much entertainment for the neutral, it was, Fenlon admitted, a “nightmare” as far as he was concerned and during Hibs’ performance up to the hour mark it was hard to see Saints finding a way back into a match which the home side had dominated.
Even so, all Fenlon’s side had to show for their efforts was a typical Griffiths strike, the 22-year-old taking Danny Handling’s astute pass in his stride before unleashing a vicious, rising shot which screamed past Craig Samson.
Saints boss Lennon said: “I was upset at that goal, he came back inside two players, not one but two. Take nothing away from his finish, though, I will be surprised if he doesn’t win the PFA Player of the Year Award.”
Only a minute earlier the Buddies goalkeeper had done well to block a low drive from Griffiths while Eoin Doyle passed up a wonderful opportunity to probably put the game beyond the visitors before the interval, swinging a lazy boot at Handling’s cutback and directing the ball into Samson’s arms rather than the net.
And even the opening minutes of the second half did little to suggest Hibs were in any danger. Doyle scuffed a shot past the post and Handling blasted wide from Jorge Claros’ pass as the Hibs fans anticipated more goals only to be stunned as Saints grabbed an unlikely equaliser although they’d been offered a helping hand as Gary Teale was left with acres of room to deliver a cross which was eventually turned home by Esmael Goncalves after both he and Steven Thompson had their efforts blocked.
An avoidable goal and one which, Fenlon admitted, drives managers mad. He said: “We were attacking down the left, Ryan had gone up to support the play but we never moved across and left a big gap. We’d spoken about managing the game, that if we are attacking those that are not involved should see and read the danger but we didn’t do that.”
Ben Williams prevented Sam Parkin putting Saints ahead as he sprang high to his right to push his curling shot aside before substitute Ross Caldwell restored Hibs’ lead, the youngster netting his first SPL goal with virtually his first touch of the ball having replaced Doyle a minute earlier.
Hibs’ joy, however, was shortlived as twice Saints defender Marc McAusland was afforded space inside the six yard box to head home, the first when Thompson headed Teale’s cross back into the danger area and the second direct from another Teale delivery.
Questions would undoubtedly have been asked as to just how McAusland managed to find himself in such a situation not just once but twice, Fenlon pointing out his headers were such that they didn’t even find the back of the net, referee Crawford Allan relying on assistant Tom Murphy’s judgment that the second had even crossed the line.
Adding to Hibs’ frustration would be the realisation that had they claimed the victory Fenlon believed they’d deserved, they’d have jumped Kilmarnock into eighth place and taken a step closer to their new target of ending the season as the best of those who found themselves in the lower half of the table after the split.
Not a lofty ambition given Hibs had once been jousting with Celtic for top spot but it is easy to see why that is as good as it can get, just that one win in Paisley to show in their last 14 league games a truly miserable record although, of course, there is the prospect of a second Scottish Cup final in two years keeping the season very much alive.
McGivern, though, admitted, he and his team-mates will have to tighten up considerably at the back when they come face-to-face with the champions at Hampden on May 26.
He said: “We’ll need to be as solid as we can be. We cannot afford to give teams the easy goals that we are giving away at the minute.
“We are working so hard to get ourselves in good positions in games then costly little mistakes are killing us.”