Before the match, there had been handshakes and hugs as both Neil Lennon and Jim Duffy tried to quell the hysteria ahead of kick-off. After another testy, competitive and, ultimately, controversial 90 minutes the Hibs boss was shrugging off similar gestures, apparently suffering from tunnel vision as he headed for referee Bobby Madden to express his ire.
He later apologised to Morton’s Andy Murdoch for the snub, accepting he had been out of order, but explaining he had been too consumed by a sense of injustice after the officials denied his men what he considered a stonewall penalty. It was to prove a costly decision and it left him fuming.
“We had one last week with Lewis Stevenson [against Dunfermline] when his arm was in an unnatural position, so we accept it,” said the Easter Road boss, who was subjected to abuse throughout the match.
“But this week their player used two hands to block a goal-bound shot. I just don’t understand it.
“I’ve no qualms with the penalty that Morton got but everyone could see what happened with the other incident. The shot might be going in or not, it might be going across the face of goal. But I don’t get it. Maybe there is an agenda, I don’t know. Maybe I’m getting paranoid. I need an explanation but I’ll not get one. It’ll be: ‘it’s poor old Lenny being the victim again.’ But I’m starting to think that there is an agenda.
“We have had five red cards this season and three were rescinded – I wonder if that’s a record. I don’t know of any team in one season – and we’re not even finished yet – who have had three red cards rescinded, that’s cost us points. And I just didn’t like the referee’s performance today. I want an explanation because it’s not one hand, it’s two hands.”
It certainly seemed a decent shout as Martin Boyle latched on to a John McGinn diagonal ball in the 26th minute and as he darted into the area from the right flank and tried to hit it beyond Mark Russell, the Morton player blocked it with raised arms. The officials claimed he was too close but that simply infuriated Lennon and his players.
Ten days ago the match between these sides at Easter Road had ended in a battle as wild tackles, simulation and stupidity forced the officials to take action and prompted disciplinary procedures that have still to fully play out. But while the supporters were obviously not ready to let it lie, Duffy said that as far as he was concerned it had no bearing on this game. Describing it as “water under the bridge”, he insisted all acrimony had been forgotten “30 seconds after it happened”.
“These are the things that happen and as far as I’m concerned it’s over and we wish Hibs well for the rest of the campaign,” he said.
It is a title bid that Hibernian seem to be struggling with, as it reaches its conclusion. Only a couple of victories from wrapping things up, they are bogged down in draws.
Despite going ahead in the 34th minute of this match through Jason Cummings, they had to settle for their 13th draw of the campaign, infuriating Lennon, who said that the inability to see out games is turning his hair white.
“It drives me mental,” said the Hibs manager. “Some guy on the Pools will be making a fortune off me.
“It’s not good enough. As a team we’re not ruthless enough, that’s the bottom line. I don’t like criticising the players but if there’s one it’s that we could have easily have won ten of our 13 draws. Maybe I haven’t brought the right players in, I don’t know.”
He did praise Cummings, who opened the scoring from a long headed clearance by Darren McGregor. The striker read the bounce better than Tom O’Ware, turning the defender to get in on goal and lash a clinical strike past Mark Gaston. But while McGinn, Boyle and Brian Graham had chances to extend the lead, Morton reprised the tenacious qualities that have allowed them to drag out this title race and found a way back into the game.
The equaliser came in the 66th minute and it was McGregor who lunged in foolishly on substitute Jamie McDonagh, who had only just entered the fray.
It gave Lawrence Shankland the chance to square things, sending Ofir Marciano the wrong way to net from the spot.