If Neil McCann becomes the latest coach to feel the wrath of an impatient Scottish football chairman, with his Dundee side still rooted to the bottom of the Ladbrokes Premiership table following this narrow defeat, he could lament a piece of individual brilliance at Easter Road as a sliding doors moment in his managerial career.
With the match all square four minutes into the second half, Dundee were in the ascendancy when the ball dropped for Faissal El Bakhtaoui in the penalty area. The striker could not have struck his effort any sweeter, driving it low across the ground with real venom. It looked certain to nestle in the back of the net before, somehow, Hibs goalkeeper Ofir Marciano reached down and pushed it away from goal. A save of the season contender it undoubtedly was.
In the immediate aftermath of the match, eventually won by Simon Murray’s third strike in four games, it was a different incident which had the Dundee boss feeling more than a little frustrated.
“He punched him in the balls,” said an infuriated McCann of Anthony Stokes after the Hibs striker became involved in a second-half altercation with Dundee defender Jack Hendry. “Fourth official can see it, he says he sees it. Then [referee] John Beaton gives a yellow card and then a yellow card to my player. John Beaton says he’s gone on the information he’s been given. Well, that information was the player has been struck by another player, and he’s not deemed it violent conduct, he’s deemed it aggressive behaviour. It doesn’t take a lot for it to be painful when you’re clipped in the balls, and that’s a closed fist.”
McCann also vented about his side’s defending at both goals, the first of which arrived only 62 seconds into the match. Martin Boyle robbed Lewis Spence in the middle of the park before driving forward, skipping past Kevin Holt and drilling his shot into the far corner. The winger nearly netted another five minutes later. He dribbled past a couple of tackles on the edge of the area before Holt slid in to block the shot.
It looked as if Hibs were going to have it their own way at that point, but playing their fourth match in two weeks they failed to maintain their early intensity and the visitors soon drew level through a Marcus Haber header after good work on the right from Roarie Deacon.
Things soon went from bad to worse for Hibs when Dylan McGeouch pulled up on 31 minutes, clutching his hamstring. The oft-injured midfielder is a hugely influential player when fit, and Hibs are hoping his latest set-back won’t derail what’s been a thoroughly impressive 2017/18 campaign so far.
Before the Marciano save and controversial melee, Hibs boss Neil Lennon made a double half-time change, taking off injured captain David Gray and the ineffective Brandon Barker and introducing Ryan Porteous and Vykintas Slivka, moving to a 3-5-2 system.
Surprisingly, the player given the most freedom to attack in the new formation was Paul Hanlon. Moving to left centre-back, the defender was able to roam forward and contribute at the other end. Three times in the opening 15 minutes of the second half he was allowed to drive with the ball to the edge of the Dundee area. One of those runs almost led to a goal with Anthony Stokes flicking home Hanlon’s curling shot, though the striker was flagged for offside.
Hibs would find their winner a short time later. With Hanlon acting as a decoy on the outside, Stokes was given time to turn and whip in a perfect cross for Murray to finish from close range.
McCann would make a formation change himself, but it made little impact.
Hibs always looked the side more likely to add to the scoring and it was Hanlon who almost put the cherry on top, shaving the outside of the far post with a low drive. He was made to settle for the man of the match award instead.