Hibs 2 - 2 Inverness CT: Draw no longer good enough as Hibs raise their expectations
HIBERNIAN threw away a two-goal lead in this one but, when referee Euan Norris sounded his final whistle, a few grumbles gave way to warm applause. During the first half, the home team had knocked the ball about so well that the fans’ appreciation rippled round Easter Road.
Hibernian (Doyle 23, Wotherspoon 31)
Inverness CT (Pepper 39, Foran 81)
On this evidence, Pat Fenlon’s side are getting better, and for the moment, that is what matters most to the supporters.
Their mood was mirrored by that of their manager. Hibs had allowed Conor Pepper and Richie Foran to cancel out first-half goals by Eoin Doyle and David Wotherspoon but Fenlon was not about to criticise them in the dressing-room afterwards. His team had played well, better than they had for most of last season. They just didn’t get the breaks.
The trouble with that interpretation of two lost points is that it stands up to scrutiny only in the light of past troubles. James McPake, for instance, doesn’t want to hear that they deserved more from the match. Or that they are better than they were a few months back. He wants results, and he wants them now. After all, his team were two goals up, at home, against a team who are bottom of the Clydesdale Bank Premier League.
McPake might have accepted that last season, but not any more. Not if the club are serious about moving forward. “Everyone in that dressing-room was gutted,” he said. “Maybe last year, after a 2-2 draw at home, we’d have been walking off that park relieved that we never lost 3-2. But we can’t keep saying that. We can’t keep going back. It’s a new season. There are new standards at this football club.”
There were plenty of encouraging signs for Hibs, especially in a one-sided first half, but McPake’s comments are perhaps the biggest reason for optimism. He says that a new mentality has taken root in the dressing room since Fenlon signed Gary Deegan and Paul Cairney, who have added dig to the midfield and, in so doing, inspired those alongside them. Jorge Claros looks a better player than he was last season. As does David Wotherspoon, who seems to have his confidence back.
“The change of personnel has brought a change of mentality,” said McPake. “The manager was criticised in the summer for not bringing in enough players but it just shows you what a good manager he is. He has handpicked certain players. Gary Deegan, for example. He’s not going to let you get beat. He’s a winner, a digger.
“When you look around the place, there’s a hate-to-lose mentality. We’re going to roll our sleeves up first and win the battle. That’s what we needed to do because there’s not a lot between the teams up here. First and foremost, you have to go out and win the fight. That’s what he’s trying to instil in us, and I think we’re doing that in the majority of our games.”
Certainly, in the opening half-hour on Saturday, they were too strong for Inverness. While they might have been a goal down had Ben Williams not saved Aaron Doran’s drive, their opener a few seconds later was richly deserved.
When Doyle dashed on to a long ball from Cairney, his angled shot was saved by the goalkeeper but the Hibs striker pounced on the rebound to convert from six yards. A few minutes later, Cairney came close when his thumping shot cannoned off the post but it only delayed Hibs’ second. The ball fell to Wotherspoon 25 yards out and the midfielder hit a perfect, dipping shot over the goalkeeper and into the top left-hand corner.
Hibs were coasting at this stage, slinging the ball about with confidence, but Pepper’s goal, a controversial one at that, changed the game. When the young Irishman caught Alan Maybury in possession, the defender claimed to have been fouled but the referee was having none of it. Pepper steadied himself before pinging a powerful shot in off the base of the left-hand post. Had Williams not then spooned Gary Warren’s header off the line, Inverness might have been on level terms at half-time, unlikely though it had seemed.
Hibs were not granted nearly so much freedom in the second half but still had the best of the chances, the most notable of which was McPake’s with 13 minutes left. After Doyle had set him up in the six-yard box, he thrashed at it with his right foot, only to see Ryan Esson somehow deflect it away for a corner. “That would have killed it,” said McPake. “If that goes in, it’s game over really but, unfortunately, the goalie’s done well. I caught it well enough. Maybe too well. If I had scuffed it, maybe it would have gone in.”
But he hadn’t, and it didn’t, so Hibs paid. Just two minutes later, Warren’s effort was brilliantly parried by Williams, and the ball fell to Foran, who rattled it into the net from close range.
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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