Partick Thistle 0-1 Hibernian: Craig downs Jags

Liam Craig races off to celebrate after opening the scoring. Picture: SNS
Liam Craig races off to celebrate after opening the scoring. Picture: SNS
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ON A night when the result was far more impressive than the performance for Hibs, they forced their way back into the top six of the Scottish Premiership with a hard-earned if hardly merited victory over a Partick Thistle side still waiting for their first home win since returning to the top flight.

Scorer: Hibernian - Craig 65

Liam Craig’s sixth goal of the season, created by high impact substitute Abdellah Zoubir, earned three points for Pat Fenlon’s men and drew them level on points with fourth-placed Aberdeen in the table. Thistle manager Alan Archibald was left to rue an evening of missed opportunities by his team, whose lack of a reliable goalscorer was once more exposed. They controlled the match for lengthy spells but were unable to convert it into goals.

Fenlon stuck by the starting line-up which had succumbed to a comprehensive defeat in Inverness last time out, giving his players the opportunity to prove that was no more than a blip. But as they looked to recover the encouraging form they had shown prior to that setback, Hibs made a nervy start.

The uncertainty in the visiting ranks was typified by Ryan McGivern’s sloppy work in delivering a passback to Ben Williams under pressure from Thistle striker Kris Doolan. It left the Hibs goalkeeper with little option but to collect the ball with his hands and concede a free kick just outside his six-yard area.

Goals from such situations are a rarity, however, and so it proved again as Thistle worked the ball back to Sean Welsh whose shot was smothered by the massed ranks of Hibs players advancing from the goalline.

Apart from a wickedly delivered corner by Liam Craig, there was precious little in the way of attacking intent by Hibs in the opening stages. Thistle, utilising the width and pace of Kallum Higginbotham and Steven Lawless in their advanced midfield positions, were able to stretch the Hibs defence at the other end. They came close to making the breakthrough in the 16th minute when Higginbotham found Conrad Balatoni with a corner from the right. He struck his shot cleanly, only for Scott Robertson to rescue Hibs with a smart goalline clearance.

Higginbotham then cut in from the left to test Williams with a low shot from 20 yards which the big Englishman gathered confidently low to his right.

Hibs gradually managed to secure a more equitable share of possession, Kevin Thomson trying to bring greater cohesion to their work from central midfield. He started the move in which Ryan McGivern set up a good shooting chance for Robertson who blazed his effort well off target.

There was further encouragement for the travelling support when another well-constructed move created an opening for Paul Heffernan, only for the striker to drag his shot from the edge of the area narrowly wide.

Thistle reclaimed the momentum in the closing stages of the first half. Doolan met Stephen O’Donnell’s fine cross from the right with a flying header which only cleared the crossbar by inches. Walsh then drove a shot over the top from Stuart Bannigan’s pass.

Archibald’s men also began the second half with far greater purpose than their visitors and should have gone in front in the 51st minute. A long through ball by O’Donnell caught out Michael Nelson, the big Hibs defender horribly musjudging his attempt to cut it out and allowing Doolan a free run on goal.

It was a glorious opportunity but the Thistle front man completely lacked conviction as he struck his shot too close to the advancing Williams, who made a solid save.

Aaron Taylor-Sinclair saw a shot deflected just wide for a corner, then Paul Hanlon made a well-timed penalty area intervention to deny Doolan another clear sight of goal.

Fenlon then withdrew the largely anonymous duo of James Collins and Tom Taiwo who were replaced by Owain Tudur Jones and Abdellah Zoubir.

The latter’s introduction was especially welcomed by the Hibs fans who have savoured his cameo contributions so far. They were soon hailing the 21-year-old again as he played a crucial role in Hibs going in front in the 69th minute.

Collecting the ball on the right after some sloppy play by Thistle, Zoubir surged towards the penalty area. After intelligently checking his run to assess his options, he showed good control and awareness to pick out Craig with a pass which the midfielder met with a fine first-time right-foot shot from the edge of the penalty area which gave Fox no chance.

Hibs, though, were indebted to Williams in the closing stages. He improvised smartly to keep out a close-range Christie Elliott shot with his feet, then showed terrific reactions to leap to his left and turn a Ross Forbes shot from 22 yards behind.

Partick: Fox, O’Donnell, Muirhead, Balatoni, Taylor-Sinclair; Osbourne, Welsh; Lawless (Elliott 64), Bannigan (Baird 73), Higginbotham (Forbes 79); Doolan. Subs not used: Gallacher, Craigen, Piccolo, Fraser.

Hibernian: Williams, Stevenson, Hanlon, Nelson, McGivern; Robertson (Stanton 90), Taiwo (Zoubir 62), Thomson, Craig; Collins (Tudur-Jones 62), Heffernan. Subs not used: Murdoch, McPake, Vine, Mullen.

Referee: K Clancy

Attendance: 4,521