From one goal-line controversy to the scene of another.
This Friday, Hibs, still nursing a sense of injustice following the failure of the match officials to award Leigh Griffiths a legitimate goal against Hearts on Sunday, head to Fir Park, where, ironically, Pat Fenlon’s men benefited from a bad goal-line call back in October.
That night it was Motherwell and their manager, Stuart McCall, ruing a game-changing decision when they had a clear equaliser ruled out as Steven Hammell’s header crossed the line before being clawed out by Hibs goalkeeper Ben Williams. At that point, Hibs were 1-0 up but the Fir Park side were threatening, yet, as Motherwell simmered with rage, Hibs took full advantage of their reprieve and ultimately ran out 4-0 winners.
Motherwell were able to banish this considerable setback from their minds and now sit pretty in second place in the SPL. With their top-six place now under serious threat, Hibs have been urged to do the same, starting with Friday’s trip along the M8. “The fact that Hibs benefited from a bad goal-line decision earlier in the season doesn’t make it right that they didn’t get the decision on Sunday,” said Pat Nevin, the Hibs supporter and former Motherwell player. “Now and again it might look like things even themselves up over the season, but how does that work with Hearts – they’ve ended up with an extra point. It’s interesting that the two teams play each other on Friday having had decisions go against them, but I don’t think that equates it.
“Football folk generally moan about things like that for a week or two and then it’s forgotten about it. Ask Stuart McCall about the decision earlier in the season and he’ll say it’s ancient history. Come the end of the season, if Motherwell miss out on second place by a point they might look back and say what if that goal against Hibs had been given, and, likewise, if Hibs miss out on the top six by a point. It’s not fair, but you can’t dwell on things like that. You just have to shrug your shoulders and get on with it.”
Nevin is adamant that technology needs implementing immediately – as he feels decisions like Sunday’s at Easter Road are making football a laughing stock. “I always have sympathy with the officials in these cases,” he said. “It’s not their fault that football is run by imbecilic Luddites. And by that I don’t mean the SFA – I mean UEFA and FIFA. The likes of NFL, tennis and rugby all use technology, but football keeps on refusing to bring it in. They won’t even trial it because they know it will work.
“It’s just so backward and in ten years’ time we’ll look back and laugh at the stupidity of the arguments against using it, because we will use it in the end. I’m not just talking about goal-line technology, though, I want the whole shooting match. I don’t think you’ll find many people in football that will argue a goal shouldn’t stand just because of the inability of the officials to see it.
“They do their jobs to the best of their ability, but mistakes will always happen when you’re relying solely on the naked eye. It was unfair on Hibs on Sunday, it was unfair on Motherwell earlier in the season and it was unfair on England at the last World Cup, but for as long as we don’t use technology, there will continue to be bad decisions made and referees will continue to get stick.”
Sunday’s derby stalemate left Hibs’ top-six hopes in the balance, with three games left before the split. The Easter Road men are clinging on to sixth place, but have an arduous run-in, with a home game against high-flying Inverness sandwiched in between trips to the league’s top two, Motherwell and Celtic.
“It would be a shame for Hibs if they were to finish in the bottom six after such a good start, but that’s just the nature of football,” continued Nevin. “There’s no point hammering out the blocks and then falling away at the end. I don’t think they’ve got enough quality to consider themselves a comfortable top-six team because they probably do rely on Griffiths too much.
“Having said that, if that goal at the weekend had stood, they would have been pretty comfortable on 42 points, just a few points behind Inverness. It’s been little moments like that have decided things this season, but it’s not just been Hibs who have suffered.
“The league is that tight that there’s a good chance a team is going to miss out on the top six by a point or two, but that shouldn’t necessarily mean they’ve had a bad season. There really is nothing between so many of the teams that a refereeing decision or an untimely injury could end up having a big say in how things end up.”
Nevin insists it’s impossible to look beyond the possibility of a shootout between the SPL’s joint top scorers, Hibs striker Griffiths and Motherwell’s Michael Higdon, in Friday’s encounter. “So often this season it has been those two who have grabbed the headlines and it wouldn’t be a surprise if it goes that way again,” he said.