TERRY Butcher may have said his fond farewells to Inverness but his love affair with the Highlands just grows and grows.
Scorers: Hibernian - Nelson (18), Forster (56)
Bookings: Ross County - McLean, Quinn, De Leeuw; Hibernian - Forster
Hibernian’s English manager savoured a second successive victory with his new club at the Global Energy Stadium, a sensation he never enjoyed with Caley Thistle. And his new team have now won twice in the last 11 games, with both triumphs coming in Dingwall.
Two headers from corner- kick deliveries from defenders Michael Nelson and Jordon Forster were enough to seal it and consign County to a ninth game without victory.
In a game far more entertaining than the grim Scottish Cup clash in late November, Hibs scored more than a single goal for the first time in 13 matches since late September against Stranraer.
For County, it was agonising stuff again, with the Dingwall team producing spells of good football and striking the woodwork twice. But the Achilles’ heel this season has been defensive lapses and two more at corners yesterday did the damage.
Butcher will hope that the brute force shown at those set pieces sparks confidence and creativity into his side who set aside a heartbreaking week to perform well.
The 313 away fans in attendance certainly appreciated the effort, singing throughout and taunting rivals Hearts for their unhappy predicament. Only the heavily-punished Tynecastle side currently spare County bottom spot.
Derek Adams made just one change from the side narrowly beaten by Dundee United. The Dingwall team, desperate to break that eight-game run without victory, brought back defender Branislav Micic for Mihael Kovacevic.
Hibs had gleaned their only win in ten matches at the Global Energy Stadium late last month. The Scottish Cup victory had also been Butcher’s first success at the ground after failing to win here with Inverness.
Butcher had midfielder Owain Tudur Jones available again but stuck with the starting side that drew 0-0 at home to St Johnstone last weekend.
Neither team was brimful of confidence given recent form, with goals at a premium for both sides. But those troubles were set in perspective by a minute’s silence for tragic young Hibs player David Paul, who died suddenly at the age of 18.
Butcher, after a tough week, had called on the Hibs players wearing black armbands to seize the mood and play as if it was their last game. That wasn’t apparent in the opening sequences with County threatening first after five minutes. Graham Carey’s cross from the left wasn’t cleared properly and team-mate Melvin De Leeuw was in like a flash but struck wide of the post.
Hibs reacted with a concerted spell of pressure, with the breakthrough arriving at County’s Jail End after 18 minutes from the first corner.
Paul Cairney’s delivery from the left flag hung the ball up at the front post and Hibs’ centre half Nelson showed courage to attack the ball and smash a header past keeper Michael Fraser. Nelson was hurt for his trouble, but quickly recovered.
A few minutes later, visibly buoyed, Hibs threatened again. Liam Craig’s venomous strike from outside the area was parried by Fraser. Ryan McGivern charged in on the rebound, but the off-side flag was raised.
Corners were creating alarm for County and another from Craig saw Forster’s downward header clutched by Fraser.
County mustered a response before the break, but couldn’t draw level.
Carey rippled the side-netting with a free-kick from 25 yards, while Kevin Luckassen’s touch deserted him as he tried to
collect a clever De Leeuw ball into the box.
The usually lethal Richard Brittain also slipped badly, skying the ball as he took a free-kick just before the break. Luckassen was hooked by County manager Adams at half-time, with ex-Hearts striker Gary Glen his replacement.
County looked lively from the re-start as they took the game to Hibs. Another teasing Carey cross drifted beyond Rocco Quinn as the hosts pressed.
De Leeuw then spread the ball wide to Carey on the break. This time the wide man fancied it himself, cut inside and smacked the outside of the near post with a right-foot blast.
But County’s failure to deal with set pieces surfaced again after 55 minutes. Cairney’s corner from the left swung to the middle of the six-yard box and Forster bulleted in between markers to score with a diving header.
County fought on and saw a second attempt strike woodwork – Carey’s dipping 25-yard free-kick cracking off the top of the bar after 73 minutes. County kept fighting towards the close, but Hibs stood strong and collected a valuable three points.
Ross County: Fraser, Micic, Boyd, McLean, Gordon (Mustafi 68), Brittain, Kettlewell, Quinn, Carey, De Leeuw (Cooper 67), Luckassen (Glen 46). Subs not used: Brown, Maatsen, Steven Ross, Klok.
Hibernian: Williams, Forster, Nelson, Hanlon, McGivern, Cairney, Robertson, Craig, Stevenson, Cummings (Handling 66), Collins (Tudur Jones 85). Subs not used: Maybury, Murdoch, Stanton, Zoubir, Caldwell.