Aberdeen move up to second as Hibs relapse

Hibs striker James Collins watches as his shot drifts agonisingly wide of the Aberdeen goal at Easter Road on Saturday. Picture: Jane Barlow
Hibs striker James Collins watches as his shot drifts agonisingly wide of the Aberdeen goal at Easter Road on Saturday. Picture: Jane Barlow
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THIS fixture has not been kind to thrill seekers in the recent past. Those in search of entertainment really were best advised to head to the cinema.

Four goalless draws in the last two seasons and only 12 goals in ten matches tend to tell the rather dreary story of games between these teams.

So this was, then, a vast improvement as far as the neutral was concerned while for Aberdeen fans, it was the day their side really did begin to live up to their early-season promise. As for Hibs, sadly, it was another bitterly disappointing outcome at home, and one that was particularly sore to observe given the lively showing against Celtic seven days earlier.

It was also not how they wanted to prepare for Wednesday night’s League Cup derby against Hearts. Their rivals have their own problems, of course, but no-one at Hibs can afford to feel too confident – not when winning matches at Easter Road is proving such a difficult task. With only four more home league matches to play in 2013, Hibs’ total of SPL/Premiership victories at Easter Road this calendar year still stands at two.

Children were out in force in the stands on another special Hibs kids’ day and the home side seemed intent on ditching what some branded their ‘X certificate’ tactics from the previous weekend. Only parental guidance was advised as Hibs – strangely, given the success of this up and at ’em attitude versus Celtic – seemed to lack the heart for the fight. “We didn’t deserve it,” summed up manager Pat Fenlon afterwards. “We didn’t get about them early enough,” he added.

Fenlon had every right to react the way he did last week following comments by Celtic manager Neil Lennon about “rugbyesque” challenges. What did people want, Fenlon wondered. Hibs were condemned for being soft touches against Celtic in the Scottish Cup final and so tried a different tactic last week, with the result that they raised Lennon’s hackles. Significantly, they also won a point. And yet on Saturday it almost felt as if Hibs had been cowed by the negative reaction – from some quarters – to their previous performance. Rather than take it as evidence of a job well done they appeared to retreat into a shell again.

The not altogether surprising result was that Aberdeen feasted on the timidity and were well worth the win, even if the goals that secured it came later in the day than they might have preferred.

Indeed, Gregg Wylde, who scored Aberdeen’s second in the 90th minute, suggested that his team had been “totally dominant”. He added: “I don’t think Hibs had a shot on goal until Barry Robson almost caught Jamie [Langfield] out with that passback.” If that was not quite the case – Paul Heffernan forced a save from Langfield at the end of the first half – the suggestion that Aberdeen caused themselves more problems than Hibs managed is a terribly damning verdict on the home side’s ineffectiveness in front of goal.

Aberdeen did not have to do much to prevent Hibs’ best chance of the game from going in since James Collins failed to hit the target in any case when Langfield slipped while attempting to deal with the aforementioned backpass from Robson. Collins, who appeared as a second-half substitute, rolled the ball the wrong side of the post from an admittedly narrow angle as Langfield scrambled back to his feet.

It was a decisive moment since Aberdeen had only just made the breakthrough. The fifth goalless draw between these teams since 2011 was looming when Scott Vernon replaced the struggling Calvin Zola. Aberdeen did not take long to reap the benefit of the switch in target men. With ten minutes left. Vernon struck a fine shot into the top corner after a lay-off by Wylde. The substitutes again combined in the final minute after Vernon released Wylde down the left. The winger finished with aplomb to score his first goal for the club and spark more joyous scenes in a densely populated away end.

Indeed, the impressive travelling support had featured in Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes’s pre-match talk. “The manager told us about coming here at the end of last season, when only 200 fans came down with the team,” said Wylde, with reference to what was, to be fair, a Monday night fixture. “This time, over 2000 supporters followed us. It shows what a big club Aberdeen are – and how excited the fans are.”

The supporters will again travel in good numbers on Wednesday when Aberdeen visit Motherwell on League Cup duty. “The fans think we can do something special and it is up to us to deliver,” added Wylde.

Hibs, meanwhile, will need to find a way to threaten in front of goal again prior to their cup appointment in midweek. This aim has not been helped by the absence of Heffernan, who looked far and away Hibs’ best striker on Saturday. He is cup-tied for Wednesday but might have been absent in any case after picking up an injury which led to him being replaced just after the hour mark.

Lewis Stevenson pondered the upcoming challenge of facing a fired-up Hearts side, who will relish swapping their league struggles for a one-off cup match.

“We just have to be a lot better,” said Stevenson, who admitted being at fault in the run-up to Aberdeen’s opener when he was dispossessed by Wylde. “Derbies are never the best games but we just need to play a lot more football than we did today.”

On being informed that Hearts had also lost 2-0, Stevenson replied: “Well they will be looking for a lift as well. We will have to rise to the occasion. We just need to get some consistency – but then, I have been saying that for the last five years.”