WHILE St Mirren appear to be hitting their stride at just the right time, Hibs are stoating towards the end of the season like a drunk man trying to cross a dual carriageway.
St Mirren 2 - 0 Hibernian
SCORERS: St Mirren; McLean 1, McGowan 13
At St Mirren Park
The dangers are evident to everyone else but they seem to be oblivious.
Yes, they talk a decent game, they show contrition after every defeat, say they need to up their game and acknowledge that failure to do so could drag them into the play-off dogfight. But there is no longer any doubt about it. In this form, they are slap bang at the heart of the tussle which should be of major concern to those who care about the club because heart is just one of the qualities they seem to lack.
Once again the club with a budget that suggests they should be finishing the season in the top six are
facing a tortured run-in and with one win from the past 15.
Within 13 seconds yesterday, they were already a goal behind and by the end of the 14th minute they were two down. For a side who have scored just 29 goals in the league this season, the lowest haul in the top flight, the likelihood of them overhauling that deficit looked remote.
Even after Jim Goodwin was sent packing for a reckless challenge on Kevin Thomson in the 29th minute, the visitors remained impotent.
“Dear oh dear oh dear. It’s exasperating, frustrating, everything else,” said Hibs manager Terry Butcher. “We had a magnificent support through and the Hibs fans will back us, no doubt about that. But we’ve let them down big time again. We just want to give them something they can hang on to, but I’ve said that time and time again. I’ve got to dig out some fight motivation and attitude for next Sunday because if we play like that Hearts will beat us, there’s no doubt about that. You see them do OK and work hard in training but they have to cross the white line and produce it.
“We are in it. Let’s not beat about the bush. We are in a situation where we have lost five games in a row. We have scored one goal in those five games. We have to find a way to get a resolute team performance, score a goal and get a team out there that is going to fight and scratch for Hibernian FC. At this moment the boys are not doing that. There is not enough fight, effort and attitude. It’s not about contracts, it’s about hearts and desire. It’s going to take a great effort to turn it round for the next game against Hearts. That’s what I’m looking at, not the play-off spot. We have four games to go and we need to improve and quickly.”
St Mirren’s opener came straight from kick-off, the ball played forward to Steven Thompson whose knockdown gave Kenny McLean the opening. He took it spectacularly with a driven finish that offered Ben Williams no chance.
That should have stimulated a response from Butcher’s boys but instead they looked rattled, as much by the way St Mirren were confidently passing the ball all around them and finding space as they were by the scoreline.
If Danny Lennon’s side were looking comfortable at that point, they were on easy street after they added the second. This time, McLean was involved in the build-up, after Goodwin dispossessed Jordan Forster, and Paul McGowan supplied the clinical finish.
“We never got out of the blocks and in the position we’re in we can’t give any team a two-goal start. We’re disappointed. But we are where we are,” said Hibs’ Thomson. “It’s a dogfight and we have to stand up and be counted. I’m still confident we’ll be okay but if we put in performances like that then we’re going to be in bother.
“I’m just a player. I work hard every day. It’s up to the manager to pinpoint what the problem is and get us playing. Unfortunately, a few of the boys have let him down. It’s time for big characters, puffed out chests and three points against Hearts on Sunday.”
Goodwin’s lunge at the former Scotland international could have provided the game with a turning point and while the home fans reacted angrily, feeling that their captain had been the victim of some rough justice, on first viewing the red card looked warranted, even if Thomson did make a meal of things.
“It was a poor tackle from Jim. I got there first,” insisted Thomson. “You could probably hear it from Edinburgh. He clattered my shinpad. He caught me right at the side of it. I thought it was quite nasty. I’m not bothered about Jim Goodwin.”
But even the one-man adavantage gave Hibs little impetus. They huffed and puffed but Saints goalkeeper Christopher Dilo had very little to deal with.