Hibernian are a team who have been tipped for the Championship title from the moment last season finished. With a nine-point lead and only five games of the league season remaining, few would bet against them doing just that, but they are dragging it out.
“It does feel like that,” said defender Darren McGregor after they had to settle for a 1-1 draw with Dunfermline at East End Park on Saturday, passing up more than a couple of opportunities to turn that solitary point into three. “We are well aware of the amount of games we have drawn, but actions speak louder than words and it’s up to us to go into these [remaining] games and get the three points as opposed to drawing. It’s a team game and we are well aware we could be doing better in the goals department. John [McGinn] scored a terrific goal and Jason [Cummings] has got half our goal tally. There are goals in this team and maybe we never got the rub of the green, but there will be no one more disappointed than Brian Graham that he never scored. It’s something we will need to work on and hopefully it will turn.”
The opening goal came after just 13 minutes and was a perfectly-placed, low, left-foot strike by McGinn that gave the Pars keeper Sean Murdoch no chance, zipping just inside the post. But the visitors did not have it all their own way and there was enough offered up by the hosts to keep the rejigged Hibs defence busy.
In a late, late switch, Paul Hanlon was removed from the teamsheet after his nerve problem flared up and Brian McLean was promoted to the starting line-up. Minus captain David Gray, who is still injured, and without the option of Jordon Forster, who was clattered as all hell broke loose in the midweek clash with Morton, options are limited for manager Neil Lennon, who will now anxiously wait to see if he will even have the services of McGregor, below, when his side heads to Cappielow on Saturday. An appeal hearing is pending after he was red carded for an alleged head butt.
“I don’t want to dig too much into it,” he said. “Everyone who knows me knows I am not a nasty player and I would never attempt to hurt someone. Tempers frayed and there were things done and decisions made, but when the dust settles we will get a bit of clarity and we can move on. I know I never did anything. I am hoping with the benefit of hindsight it can get cleared up and we can move on.”
Having taken the lead so early in the game against Dunfermline, Hibs had chances to stretch it but McGinn was denied by Murdoch when he went looking for his second just after the interval and when Cummings tried to make more of the rebound, playing the ball in for Graham, he could only hang his head in frustration as he shanked his close-range effort wide. Cummings was just as profligate a few minutes later, failing to make the most of another opening.
Dunfermline had made life tough for Hibs the last time they met and had left Easter Road with a 2-2 draw at the end of February. On Saturday, they were just as dogged, staying with Hibs long enough to get their chance to level. Paul McMullan had passed up the first one towards the end of the first half, when he failed to fully punish keeper Ofir Marciano, who had miscontrolled a passback.
But in the 58th minute, they were gifted a penalty when the linesman intervened to award a handball against Lewis Stevenson. Kallum Higginbotham converted.
The Pars might have won in the 80th minute but McMullan’s cutback was fired straight at Marciano by Michael Moffat.
“It’s disappointing because with a few minutes to go we were aware that Morton were getting beat too, so there was a massive incentive for us,” said McGregor. “It’s really frustrating because of the amount of games we have drawn – that’s 12 games now – and we need to start turning them into wins. We have a gap but we are well aware that could change, so we should be winning these games.
“Credit to Dunfermline, they pressed us well. I thought the penalty was a bit dubious. Lewis said it brushed his hand. The lino said it was an unnatural position, but if you have ever played the game it’s quite common for your hands to go like that. He wasn’t coming out like Superman, but it is what it is and we just have to take it on the chin.”