Apparently the rest of the Championship are preparing their goodbyes. Dumbarton’s manager said before this game he doesn’t expect to see Hibernian again for a while so he wanted his players to enjoy this visit to the big stadium in the east. The Sons helped themselves to a point and this league isn’t letting anyone leave it just yet.
“Pedestrian, clumsy, sloppy,” was Easter Road manager Neil Lennon’s verdict on his team. “All the things we warned about beforehand. I’m sick of watching performances like that. I must sound like a broken-down record.”
Twice behind and having missed a penalty, Hibs might be glad of this draw come the final reckoning for they wheezed and spluttered against the spirited Sons for whom Christian Nade produced his usual hectic cameo against a team he loves to irritate. The big man scored with a spot-kick and got involved in a tussle in the Hibs dugout which the locals thought should have seen him red-carded. Sons manager Stevie Aitken played it down. “It was handbags. I’ve seen a better go at it down the local supermarket,” he laughed.
Then Aitken played up the efforts of his team. “To a man I thought they were outstanding and, against the team that will probably win the Championship, they had to be. Maybe this looked like a game Hibs would win but it’s a very competitive league.”
It’ll be a different second tier without the last of the Big Three, if Hibs are indeed to follow Hearts and Rangers in getting out. Less glamour and more grit. Aitken’s team seem to possess a sufficient amount of the latter. In Hibs’ previous two seasons in the second tier the Sons caused them considerable discomfort. But yesterday Lennon’s men – bolstered by toughly eked-out 1-0 away wins at the Rock, the kind which can win titles – were going for a clean sweep of victories.
Dumbarton were trying to follow up their biggest win of the season – 4-0 against Raith Rovers – with Nade leading the charge and Darren McGregor keen to crash into the back of him at every opportunity.
Hibs were without the suspended Jason Cummings although his deputy James Keatings caught the eye with his crossing. But Keatings, despite his deliveries, lacked the physical presence. Martin Boyle discovered he couldn’t just zip past Daniel Harvie when he wanted. Andrew Shinnie fluttered ineffectually. Meanwhile, Lennon stood on the touchline, arms crossed, glowering.
It was a snoozy affair and we wondered if the first-half highlight might be a full 360-degree turn by Nade with all the stately grace of a Firth of Forth tugboat. But no, he could top that. Marvin Bartley brought down the lively Andy Stirling on the edge of the box. After Hibs’ protests that the challenge had been outside, Nade coolly dispatched the penalty.
Hibs departed the first half to booing. “I think they’d only played at 30 per cent,” said Lennon. “I’m not sure they even had a sweat on. They did after I’d spoken with them.”
Hibs almost drew level right after the restart. A long ball into the box from McGregor was laid back by Grant Holt for Keatings but his shot was straight at Alan Martin.
Dumbarton were neat in possession and the home crowd were becoming even more exasperated as Shinnie’s deflected shot was turned round a post. Then the pass of the match until that point from Lewis Stevenson found John McGinn. The Scotland midfielder fired over a hard cross and Harvie, unable to get out of the way, bundled it into the net. But as the fans anticipated an onslaught Dumbarton sneaked back upfield. The ball was worked from the right and Robert Thomson running on to the low cross swept home a fine shot from the edge of the box.
Then Hibs got their penalty, Darren Barr pulling back Holt. Keatings, whose early promise had evaporated, hit the spot-kick well enough but Martin pulled off an excellent save. Keatings quickly had a chance to make amends but a left-foot shot sizzled the wrong side of an upright.
Lennon was happy with the effort shown in the second half and Hibs’ second equaliser was to mar Martin’s heroic day. The goalkeeper came for a long, hopeful and desperate ball at the edge of his box and dropped it. Boyle craned his neck at it and his header rolled into the empty net, but only just.