Oh for a wily striker with a knack for creating goals from nothing. Anthony Stokes was missing once more from the team sheet but remained at the forefront of Hibs fans’ thoughts until John McGinn took it upon himself to score the sort of goal the exiled striker would be proud to claim.
Despite Neil Lennon’s slightly oblique comments about the player being potentially part of his plans, Stokes was absent from Dens Park last night and must now be presumed to have played his last game for the club.
But McGinn was happy to bear the burden of scoring on his broad shoulders. The midfielder swivelled to give Hibs something to hold on to eight minutes after half-time. Dundee passed up a golden chance to equalise when teenage substitute Matthew Henvey headed past from close range in the dying moments.
McGinn might have been the pivotal performer but he was fortunate to remain on the pitch after felling Glen Kamara shortly after picking up a booking for a foul on Faissal El Bakhtaoui on 63 minutes. A hitherto underwhelming contest became a very heated one indeed. Dundee teammates Paul McGowan and El Bakhtaoui then pushed heads into one another as the hosts’ frustrations spilled over.
Hibs ought to have made the game safe through Brandon Barker, who twice failed to capitalise when through one on one with Dundee goalkeeper Elliott Parish. His first attempt rippled the side-netting and his second saw Parish make a fine block.
Lennon clearly planned to hurt Dundee with pace and to an extent they did. Barker and former Dundee winger Martin Boyle started on the flanks, with Simon Murray a roving presence through the middle.
The hosts were pinned back from the start. Jack Hendry returned to the centre of the Dundee defence and seemed to be affected by the speculation surrounding him. Knowing there is a raft of scouts in the stand examining your every move can’t help settle the nerves.
Hendry was robbed of the ball in the opening minute and was booked for a lunge on McGinn just after the half hour mark. Whether a club meets Dundee’s £1.5m valuation remains to be seen in the days ahead. Dundee did seem to make a point of naming him man of the match.
In truth Hendry didn’t excel here but then few did. Ofir Marciano caught the eye with a fine diving save from Mark O’Hara’s header after 68 minutes,
Slightly worryingly for Lennon, although his side were enjoying plenty of possession, they created few clear-cut chances in the opening half. Dundee, for all their sluggishness, actually came closest to scoring in these opening stages, both times through El Bakhtaoui.
Playing in a slightly more advanced role than normal, the French Moroccan brought out a fine stop from Marciano low to his right after quarter of an hour. El Bakhtaoui then showed his pace to break down the right but saw his eventual shot deflected wide by Dylan McGeouch for a corner.
Hibs huffed and puffed for their part, coming close to an opening goal when Ambrose’s cross into the box created panic and Cammy Kerr nudged the ball on to the post while under pressure from Murray.
But it was Dundee who wasted the best chance of the opening 45 minutes when Jon Aurtenetxe’s cross found Paul McGowan unmarked on the edge of the Hibs six-yard box. The midfielder isn’t known for his heading ability, and he showed why as he failed to gain the required connection and glanced the ball wide.
The Hibs fans breathed a sigh of relief. It was dismaying enough for them to accept so little in the way of end product from their team, who dominated possession but suffered for a lack of cutting edge. But such has been the story of their season to date.
McGinn made sure such a failing would not wound them. Dundee’s Jesse Curran paid a high price for losing the ball well into Hibs’ half. The visitors broke and Vynkintas Slivka’s cut back found Murray, who in turn transferred the ball to McGinn, standing with his back to goal. The midfielder was given time by the ponderous Dundee defenders to consider his options before wheeling to rifle a low left foot shot into the net.
Dundee had time left to act but were frighteningly lacking in attacking menace. What they would do for a Stokes. Indeed, what they would do for a McGinn, who stepped in to provide firepower when others were found wanting.
DUNDEE: Parish; Kerr, Hendry, Meekings, Aurtenetxe (Holt 78); McGowan, Kamara; Curran (Allan 58), O’Hara, El Bakhtaoui (Henvey, 82) ; Leitch-Smith.
HIBS: Marciano; Ambrose, McGregor, Hanlon, Stevenson; McGeouch; Barker (Swanson 78), Slivka, McGinn, Boyle (Maclaren 82); Murray (Shaw, 89)