Hibs display fight but old frailties still on show

Substitute Jason Cummings, left, is mobbed by his team-mates after scoring Hibernian's late winner. Picture: SNS
Substitute Jason Cummings, left, is mobbed by his team-mates after scoring Hibernian's late winner. Picture: SNS
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IN normal circumstances, a comeback victory like this could inspire a team to a sustained run of better form. But there has been no such thing as normal circumstances at Hibernian for some time, so reading too much into this second league win of the season would be unwise.

Hibernian 3-2 Cowdenbeath

Scorers: Hibernian- Forster (26), Malonga (78 pen), Cummings (90); Cowdenbeath - Higgins (50), Robertson (56)

It is only three weeks, after all, since Hibs fought back from a two-goal deficit to beat Dumbarton in the League Cup. Days later, they lost at Alloa, so any suggestion that this result represents real progress for Alan Stubbs’ team should be tempered by an awareness of just how vulnerable they remain.

After dominating from kick-off and taking the lead midway through the first half when Jordon Forster headed home a Matthew Kennedy cross, Hibs were left reeling when Cowdenbeath scored two in quick succession after the restart. Ultra-defensive before the break, the Fife club switched to a 3-5-2 formation – a move that hardly ranks among the game’s more avant-garde tactical innovations, yet one that was enough to flummox the home back four.

First Sean Higgins sidefooted in a low cross from John Armstrong, and then, minutes after Higgins had hit the bar, Jon Robertson tapped in at the back post from a Callum Gallagher cross which found him via the head of Paul Hanlon. Twenty minutes later, Hibs were still 2-1 behind and running out of time.

But one positive outcome of that Dumbarton win was the belief that, if you keep patiently applying yourself, fitness will tell in the latter stages. All three of Hibs’ goals in that game came in the closing 12 minutes, and they got the two they needed here in roughly the same timeframe, bearing in mind that Jason Cummings’ winner was a few minutes into time added on.

The substitute’s goal came when another cross from the impressive Kennedy had not been cleared properly, and followed the equaliser from the penalty spot by another man brought off the bench, French-born debutant Dominique Malonga. The burly striker had already given the Hibs attack added potency, and promises to offer far more of a physical threat than they have had up front for some time.

He also offers confidence in abundance – another quality which has been in seriously short supply. “I have great confidence in myself,” the 25-year-old Malonga said. “I want to win every game and inspire my team to win those games.

“I think I am here to be a leader, to inspire more confidence in the team. I think I can do that, create confidence in my team-mates. I know it will take hard work for me and my team-mates. But I think I’ll improve. And I think, the way Hibs play, I will get chances.

“We had a lot of chances to score on Saturday. The last goal came at the very end but we had chances to win the game long before then.” Malonga was the pick of the three new boys. Jake Sinclair, also a second-half substitute, had the odd promising touch out wide, albeit against a tiring defence, and Dylan McGeouch, on from the start, looked purposeful at times in central midfield.

Stubbs has been pleased by his signings, but his concern has to be protecting them from the malaise which for several seasons now has turned decent players into underperforming ones within weeks of arriving at Easter Road. Paul Heffernan, for example, now looks nothing like the player he was this time last year and did little before being replaced by Cummings, while club captain Liam Craig did not get off the bench for this one.

Still, Kennedy, for one, has so far maintained a high standard, and his pace and crosses were problems for Cowdenbeath all afternoon. Hibs could do with two or three others like him, because, for all that the patience they showed was preferable to the anxiety which has often afflicted them, they really need to learn the knack of killing teams off far more quickly. On other days, against stronger opponents, they will not have so many opportunities to amend for their own shortcomings.

As it was, Cowdenbeath’s John Armstrong suggested they had been fortunate to get the chance to equalise from the spot, which was given to them on the advice of the assistant referee, who had seen the centre-half pull back Forster. “I did have a hold of his shirt, but as far as I’m concerned, if you’re giving that then it’s a penalty every week in every game,” Armstrong said.

“It’s so soft. He’s going nowhere and his back is to goal – it’s not as if he’s turned and I’ve pulled him back. He got the ball away and fell back but it’s really soft. I don’t believe for a second that if it had been in their box we would have got a penalty.

“We’re all pretty devastated how the match has ended. Basically we’ve lost three sloppy goals by our standards and it’s something we’ve been trying to eradicate over the last couple of weeks in training. We’ve been doing it too often, we’re switching off at critical times. For 80 minutes we’re pretty good, but when we do switch off we lose vital goals.”