THE physical scars of a bruising afternoon against Dumbarton were evident as Hibernian defender Jordon Forster walked into the Easter Road media centre nursing a nasty-looking bump on his discoloured forehead.
Hibernian 0-0 Dumbarton
Suffice to say many centre-halves have probably left the field looking similarly defaced after 90 minutes spent duelling with the burly Colin Nish, who now plies his trade with the Sons.
Forster, the hardy soul that he is, will soon recover from that knock.
However, the damage done to Hibs’ increasingly slender hopes of catching Hearts at the summit of the Scottish Championship by yet more carelessly dropped points may prove harder to heal.
“With Hearts winning [against Alloa], they are 14 points ahead of us, which is a massive gap,” said the 21-year-old.
“We are trying not to look too much at the table at the moment – there is a long way to go. If we get promoted, even if it is through the play-offs, that’s fine. Being back in the top flight is all that matters.”
Massive, indeed. Moreover, their city rivals appeared to have mastered the knack of winning when they are not necessarily at their best – the mark of champions, to use the old adage.
Dispatches from Palmerston Park last week and the Indodrill Stadium on Saturday tell the story of a Hearts side who are able to ride their luck when required, but are ultimately clinical. The table does not lie in that regard.
Hibs, conversely, find themselves unable to muster up three points even when they play very well, as was the case at the weekend.
They completely dominated the game against Dumbarton, created a hatful of chances, and had a Paul Heffernan goal chalked off. Even when they actually scored they were unable to break the deadlock.
Dominique Malonga’s 38th-minute penalty certainly appeared to cross the line after goalkeeper Danny Rogers allowed the ball to squirm under his body then clawed it back.
Nevertheless referee Barry Cook and his assistant waved play on and Hibs’ ultimately futile search for an opener continued.
“I’ve seen it [the penalty] and it’s a goal,” Forster said bluntly. “We could have scored before that, but the penalty should count.
“But it wasn’t to be, and when it stays 0-0 then teams always have a chance to get a result.
“They had a couple a chances – if you can even call them that – but apart from that we were completely on top.
“If you look at the amount of efforts we had, the amount of balls we put in the box, our shots on target, our corner total – all the stats show that we frankly battered them. We’re wondering how we didn’t win the match.
“We did everything right in the game except score a goal. We created numerous chances, like we have been doing lately, but just couldn’t score a goal.”
Rogers must take some of the credit for that fact. Aside from his contentious penalty stop, the 20-year-old made a super sprawling save to deny Dylan McGeough’s ferocious effort from distance. He also fielded a curling shot from the edge of the box by Jason Cummings with aplomb.
That was the tip of the iceberg in terms of Cummings’ attempts to register his fifth goal of the campaign. Implementing the same shoot on sight policy which led to his September Championship young player of the month award, the young attacker had several passable opportunities.
He scuffed a volley into the arms of Rogers following some intrepid work down the right by David Gray and headed over the bar from decent positions either side of the interval.
By the time the former gardener’s daisycutter from distance fizzed narrowly wide in the second half, Cummings was probably coming to the realisation that this would not be his day.
When the hosts did finally put the ball in the net, they were once again foiled by the officials, with assistant referee Evan Cairns ruling Heffernan was offside as he converted a McGeough cross from close range.
Dumbarton rarely ventured into Hibs territory during a disciplined display in the capital, with Easter Road custodian Mark Oxley barely called upon to dirty his gloves.
Colin Nish, much maligned during his time at Hibs, did direct a header towards goal following a long throw by Scott Linton but it veered narrowly wide of the post. Frankly, if the Sons had pinched all three point they would have been forced to leave Edinburgh wearing masks and striped jumpers.
“We have played both Edinburgh teams and not conceded, which deserves huge credit,” said Dumbarton boss Ian Murray.
“It doesn’t get any easier – a full house at Tynecastle next weekend. It is a big occasion but we have shown we can defend well.”