Hibernian 2 - 0 St Johnstone: Griffiths inspires the Hibees
TWO wins in a row, three matches unbeaten, and a few goals in the process: their long-suffering supporters know better than to take anything for granted, but the signs are that Hibernian are at last making some kind of progress.
It’s not entirely convincing – in the first half here, it might have been last season – but after all they’ve been through, you can hardly blame them for revelling in it. Leigh Griffiths was given a standing ovation when he went off with three minutes left, replaced by Shefki Kuqi, their new signing from Oldham Athletic.
Griffiths, who scored three in his previous two games, this time was the provider, setting up both of his team’s goals, scored by Paul Hanlon and Eoin Doyle either side of half-time. “He is massively important,” admitted Pat Fenlon, their manager. “Him and Doyle were a nuisance to their back four. They are forming a half-decent partnership at the moment.”
Hibs had been thoroughly outplayed in the first half, which Fenlon was gracious enough to acknowledge, but their resilience was rewarded with a goal on the stroke of half-time and an improvement after the interval. “It’s a big three points for us,” said the manager. “After a couple of decent results, you want to build on it, and we’ve done that.”
St Johnstone are without a win in 13 matches, but they have played much worse than this. Although their first-half dominance created few clearcut chances, Steve Lomas, their manager, could scarcely believe that his team were two down within six minutes of the restart. “Let’s have it right, they were so second best it was frightening,” said Lomas. “They have not really done anything in the game to merit a two-goal lead.”
With most of their key players back after injury and suspension, the visiting team were sharper and more powerful early on. Frazer Wright’s bludgeoning headers, and Murray Davidson’s crunching tackles were all very well, but their industry led only to chances that did not test the goalkeeper.
Liam Craig’s shot, after his free kick hit the wall, was diverted wide by Hanlon. Gregory Tade was clean through, only to let James McPake slide in with a saving tackle. Then Davidson headed tamely over, and Dave Mackay shot wide. When Davidson chested down a cross by Craig, Vine’s bouncing shot was straight at the goalkeeper.
Still, half-chances are better than no chances, which is what Hibs threatened to have during that miserable opening period. Their failure to link midfield and attack, a feature of their travails last season, appeared still not to have been addressed by Fenlon. Then, just when they looked content to settle for a half-time stalemate, along came a goal, out of nothing. Griffiths flung his corner to the back post, Hanlon directed a downward header back across goal and, as the ball bounced up off the turf, Callum Davidson booted it out from under the bar with an acrobatic lunge. On the opening day at Tynecastle, Davidson had performed a similar trick, that time successfully. This time, the referee, Kevin Clancy, decided that it had crossed the line.
St Johnstone will not need telling that periods of dominance, such as they had here, must be exploited, for they tend not to last. It was clear, within seconds of the restart, that Hibs had upped their game. Jorge Claros sent a curler over the bar and Paul Cairney had his shot blocked by Steven Anderson.
Then, as if the afternoon had been a stroll all along, Hibs went two up. Gary Deegan fed Griffiths, whose low ball across the box was met by Doyle. After his first effort had been parried by the goalkeeper, the striker was first on to the rebound, ramming it over the line from just a few yards.
The two-goal cushion forced St Johnstone to open out, Peter Pawlett, their new loan signing from Aberdeen, replacing Paddy Cregg. They nearly halved the deficit when McPake’s slip allowed Tade in on goal, but the striker’s poked shot skiffed the goalkeeper’s body on its way past the post. Anderson, too, might have scored but his glancing contact was not enough to convert Craig’s free kick.
Hibs might have won by three had McPake been quicker to reach a corner by David Wotherspoon, but his glancing header drifted wide.
As it was, a late volley by Craig would have better reflected the balance of play, but Ben Williams, the Hibs goalkeeper, saved low to his right.
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Sunday 26 May 2013
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