Hibernian’s progress at Easter Road has been measured in decibels rather than results in recent weeks, with head coach Alan Stubbs and defender Liam Fontaine both citing acclaim afforded to the players after encounters against Hearts and Dundee United as evidence of their improvement at home.
Hibernian 0-0 Queen of South
Neither game was won, a wondrous Alim Ozturk drive ensuring the Edinburgh derby ended in parity and United holding their nerve in a League Cup penalty shootout.
However, there was spirit, inventiveness and tempo on show, which was loudly appreciated by those in attendance, with Stubbs remarking after the United game: “The fans gave the players a standing ovation at the end. That says it all.”
By that same yardstick, Saturday’s uninspiring stalemate against Queen of the South must be considered a dispiriting step backwards.
The Hibs players trudged from the field to a soundtrack of jeers following an impotent 90 minutes, in which a late Paul Heffernan shot – which cleared the crossbar by some distance – was the clearest sight of goal.
To his credit, David Gray made no attempt to sugar-coat the hosts’ failings, the Hibs vice-captain acknowledging a chronic lack of incisiveness and conceding that three points would have flattered the capital club.
“I don’t think we can have any complaints. We didn’t do enough to win,” said Gray after Hibs registered their fifth home match without victory.
“The lads are, of course, disappointed with the result – but even more with the fact we did not create enough.
“There were a couple of opportunities here and there, but the quality in the final third and penetration just wasn’t there. Credit to the lads for working hard and dominating the game – we were never going to lose – but we never looked like scoring.
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“In the last couple of games we have been taking our chances and I thought we had turned a corner, but today we went back to not scoring. It has stopped our momentum, because we were expected to win the match.”
To mitigate Hibs’ ineffectiveness slightly, their flaws were arguably more to do with those who were absent, rather than those playing.
There was a chasm at the heart of midfield where the injured Dylan McGeouch has previously thrived. Scott Allan was neat and tidy, but without the Celtic loanee Hibs were desperately short of the craft and guile to pick apart the massed Queen of the South ranks.
Top scorer Dominique Malonga was also unavailable, having joined up with the Congo squad last week. The fact that the 25-year-old travelled 4,000 miles and did not even make the substitutes bench against Nigeria on Saturday will be particularly hard to stomach for Hibs, who missed his presence terribly.
Jason Cummings, as bombastic as ever in attack, did his best to fill the void left by Malonga and, while he was always looking to test Queens goalkeeper Zander Clark, the young attacker lacks the nous to lead the line on his own.
The ball simply did not stick when it was fed to Cummings and he struggled to bring others into the game.
As Stubbs acknowledged after the match: “There’s more to being a striker than just scoring goals.”
Nevertheless, Cummings did sting the palms of Zander Clark on three occasions in the first half as he implemented his usual shoot-on-sight policy from distance.
Allan also forced Clark to look alive, fizzing a fierce shot towards goal from 25 yards which the St Johnstone loanee parried clear.
There was controversy moments before half-time, when Liam Craig appeared to swing an errant arm in the direction of Queens striker John Baird.
Baird was reluctant to draw attention to the incident in the aftermath, describing the clash as “handbags” and speaking highly of his former St Johnstone team-mate.
However, the Hibs captain was fortunate that referee George Salmond did not see the incident.
With Queens evidently happy to leave the capital with a stalemate and, consequently, their three-point advantage over Hibs intact, one would have expected the hosts to emerge for the second half with renewed imagination and vigour.
However, the expected onslaught did not come to fruition, Queens coping admirably with the tentative forays forward by Stubbs’ side.
Heffernan was thrown on to sniff out an elusive opportunity on 61 minutes and he swiftly found himself on the end of a Gray cross, but the former Kilmarnock striker fluffed his lines and shot over the bar from 12 yards.
“We have not lost in six league games so I do believe we are getting a grip in the league,” said Gray, in an attempt to accentuate the positives from a frustrating afternoon. “We just need to turn the draws into wins.”
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