Hibs 2 - 1 Ross County: Stokes on target as Hibs bounce back

Hibernian's Anthony Stokes rises to scores with a header. Picture: SNS/Alan Rennie
Hibernian's Anthony Stokes rises to scores with a header. Picture: SNS/Alan Rennie
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Neil Lennon felt he had maybe been too hard on his players last weekend but he was full of goodwill after this one.

It was a match where patience was a virtue as his Hibs team dug out a win against a Ross County side who, despite dropping to the foot of the Premiership table, offered stout resistance.

There was some frustration in the air as the Highland side opened the scoring just 15 minutes into the match and while the home side responded gaining parity just six minutes later, the winner took its time in materialising.

That caused some angst in the stands, among fans who were desperate to extend their lead over city rivals Hearts ahead of the midweek derby. There was also a feeling that after a tough couple of months, and just one win from their last six fixtures, that a victory was needed to calm the nerves.

It took a while but the players duly obliged.

“I thought we were fantastic,” said Lennon, “and as much as I was hard on them last week, it was a very good performance and very good result. We were back in the straps. We played some great football and could and should have won by more. We missed some good chances but the heads didn’t drop and we got what we deserved.

“It would have been a travesty if we hadn’t won, given our dominance of the game. I’m very, very pleased.”

They have played better in recent matches - against the likes of Rangers and Celtic - and had to settle for less, but in Brandon Barker and Martin Boyle, they have players of explosive pace and intent, while they were aided perfectly in this one by a front line with a front line keen to get on the scoresheet.

Oli Shaw was chosen to lead the line and showed great movement, while Anthony Stokes was in the right frame of mind and full of the raw energy needed to take the game by the scruff of the neck and ensure that no-one eased off the gas until the winner arrived.

That was later than it should have been as Hibs were the team on top for the majority of the match. But the final ball, or shot was just lacking the bite needed and they were stunned when the visitors were the ones who drew blood first.

By that stage Boyle had been busy and, after linking up with Shaw, had been foiled by a Kenny Van der Weg interception. Stokes and Stevenson had combined to created another opening minutes later.

But, in the 15th minute, Ross County showed them the effectiveness in clinical finishing as they capitalised on some slack defending and Jason Naismith and Chris Eagles worked to carve out the chance for Craig Curran to convert

Having made the counterattack count for something, Owen Coyle’s men then had to dig deep to try to repel Hibs. They soaked up the pressure for the majority of the game but a couple of blips, in the 21st minute and the 75th, gave Hibs the win there perseverance and superiority deserved.

The equaliser came from a Dylan McGeouch ball looped into the danger area which hang perfectly in the air for Stokes to attack and head past Scott Fox for his 10th goal of the season.

Barker was then a man on a mission, bursting upfield, looking for a goal of the season contender, but after evading a couple of challenges he was denied by Fox.

Stokes then had a couple of long range efforts before Naismith served up an opportunity for Chris Eagles but his effort was comfortably saved by Marciano.

In the second half it was more of the same as Ross County soaked up almost constant pressure. A Stokes freekick in the 65th minute forced a Fox save and then Boyle was the one with his head in his hands as he darted onto a Stokes ball forward but, with only the keeper to beat, drilled his effort right at the out-rushing Fox.

Shaw then had a glancing header saved before Fox had to intervene when Stokes zipped a pass across the face of goal, where Boyle was waiting.

But it was simply a matter of when, not if, as Hibs, lead by a bullishly in-form Stokes, who had shifted up a couple of gears in his quest for a winner.

He had another effort pushed over the bar by Fox but eventually the visiting keeper was beaten. Barker played a delightful ball over and Shaw made a striker’s run across the face of goal and under the close attention of van der Weg managed to get a flick on the ball and divert it past Fox.