SOME dared suggest that last week’s first derby win in three-and-a-half years could be the making of Hibernian. Easter Road manager Pat Fenlon wasn’t among those making any such claims.
Inverness Caley Thistle 3 - 0 Hibernian
Scorers: ICT - Draper (13), Foran (76), McKay (87)
Or, indeed, any claims. That is because he knows his group and so knows fine well that days such as yesterday will continue to rear up and ransack any optimism.
Inverness Caledonian Thistle deserve commendation for the clinical and commanding fashion with which they took their visitors apart and in the process took over from them as nearest challengers to Celtic at the top of the league.
Hibs, however, didn’t present them with any challenge worthy of the name. As Fenlon acknowledged. “It was a poor performance all round, from start to finish really,” he said. “We defended poorly. We need to put it down to a bad day at the office, though I take nothing away from [Inverness], because I thought they played well.”
Yet, his Inverness counterpart Terry Butcher conceded they did not have to play all that well to rack up a third straight victory against the other members of the league’s leading quartet, a victory that means they have now lost only three of their past 21 games going into the Scottish Cup replay at home to Highland rivals Ross County in midweek. “We weren’t as fluent as we have been but we were effective and strong,” he stated.
These two qualities were to the fore in their three goals. Feather beds have been tougher than Hibs backline efforts. The visitors didn’t learn their lesson from a free-kick from the left into their box that brought a headed strike from Ross Draper. In a second half that meandered nowhere in particular, it was from the right that the contest was ended, David Raven whipping in a ball that Richie Foran bundled in 14 minutes from time, before Aaron Doran crossed from the same area to bring Billy McKay a headed goal that marked his fifth strike in four games.
The only disappointment for Foran, who agreed his team “had a bit more fight in us” than their opponents, was that only 3,423 were inside the Caledonian Stadium to witness the club continue upwards in their season mirabilis.
“I won’t lie, I feel disappointed we are not getting more support. We can’t do much more on the park,” he said. “Everyone works hard behind the scenes, the offices and the chairman. I’ve never known a club to do as many public appearances as we do every week, trying to get that support in. And still we’re struggling. Yes, I’d appeal for the city of Inverness to get behind us, definitely. We need more support and, hopefully, it can come. We have to keep doing our business on the park but, yes, I am disappointed by the number of supporters who turn out for us.”
There was more than something of the old-school hirpling Hibs across the afternoon. They had the possession, and threatened to find the positions, but did not exhibit the necessary conviction. Never was that more obvious than the moment they found themselves a goal down. A foul out on the left flank by Alan Maybury on Andrew Shinnie allowed brother Andrew to sweep over a free-kick that Ross Draper headed low in at the far post with the nuisance of any serious challenge from an visiting player.
Maybe the continued absence of captain James McPake didn’t help the Hibs’ cause. What was supposed to assist it greatly, however, was the league’s top scorer Leigh Griffiths recovering from an ankle injury that forced him to miss the conclusion of last week’s derby win to lead the line. The problem was that his team-mates could not find whatever line the maverick was leading. He had one genuine opportunity in the opening period. The chance, on the half hour, came from an Inverness mistake, though, Graeme Shinnie misjudging a flick forward from Jorge Claros to send Griffiths running in on goal. His arcing drive was comfortably pushed over the bar by keeper Antonio Reguero.
The mundanity that stalked much of the 45 minutes remained the encounter’s constant companion after the interval. Until Foran struck, and caused Hibs to fold like a house of cards. “We have to find a consistent level,” Easter Road defender Alan Maybury admitted. “We can’t be so up one week, and so down the next. We weren’t at it and need to find the answers quick. We need to find a system, a way a desire to be better on the road.
“I didn’t think there was much in it and the minimum we should have had was a draw. But the way it ended sends out a statement that looks bad from us.”
It didn’t look bad from Hibs. It looked awful.