With games against the rest of the Ladbrokes Premiership top four in their next three games, Hibs gave themselves an extra boost in confidence and momentum going into what could prove to be a pivotal point of their season by leaving Partick Thistle stranded four points adrift at the foot of the table.
This victory was more of the ground-it-out variety, won via the head of opposing midfielder Adam Barton after the Thistle player inadvertently turned Lewis Stevenson’s cross into his own goal. But seeing as Hibs surrendered a second-half lead to draw with Hamilton Accies in their last outing, despite dominating the match, there would be little sympathy from those in the away side’s ranks.
It kept going a nine-month unbeaten run away from home, moved them to within a point of second, and acted as a welcomed prefix for consecutive fixtures against Celtic, Rangers and Aberdeen in the next week.
Despite a training ground bust-up with Anthony Stokes, which saw the player omitted from the 1-1 draw at New Douglas Park last week, Neil Lennon showed there was no hard feelings by including the Irishman in his starting XI alongside Simon Murray. Facilitating a switch to a 3-5-2 formation was the return of Darren McGregor after a three-month absence through injury. One player missing from the team, though, was talisman John McGinn, and his absence was felt during a first-half where Hibs struggled to get going in attack.
McGregor showed his worth just six minutes in. Isolated against Miles Storey on the right wing, he was able to dispossess the Thistle striker cleanly and halted another threatening attack a minute later by heading clear Blair Spittal’s cross.
Murray had Hibs’ first sight at goal in 11 minutes as his effort was deflected into the arms of Tomas Cerny. The club’s leading scorer was heavily involved again when he raced on to a through ball from Martin Boyle and fired across the keeper. The shot almost fizzed straight into the path of Stokes but was just out of reach of the forward’s lunge.
Spittal drew a save from Ofir Marciano after curling a free-kick over the wall. Less than 60 seconds later the hosts would have their best chance of the period as Spittal slipped in Chris Erskine, only for the midfielder to fire his effort straight at the Hibs goalkeeper.
A match which had been threatening to burst into life then hit a lull for the remainder of the half. When play restarted for the second half, it was clear that Hibs, who’d been given some added encouragement from their manager on the pitch just before kick-off, were refocused in their efforts as they went at Thistle from the off.
“We worked the players into good areas in the first half but our final ball and final decision making was poor. That’s what the little chat was about at half-time,” said Lennon. “We looked a little bit tentative in front of goal and it was just not good enough. The quality was poor from my point of view. We needed the goal but that’s now two very good performances away from home so I’m delighted.”
They opened the scoring when Boyle won a free-kick 25 yards from goal. Stokes’ effort hit the wall, but when Lewis Stevenson retrieved the loose ball, his inswinging cross was headed backwards and into his own net by Barton.
Thistle responded by making a change to their system. Kris Doolan replaced Steven Lawless and the 4-2-3-1 became a 3-5-2 as they matched up with the away side. The alteration almost had an immediate effect with Storey crossing for Doolan to strike at goal. Marciano was going one way but managed to readjust his legs and make a reaction save. Spittal had the next chance, hitting a half-volley which spun a yard over Marciano’s top left-hand corner.
Lennon then responded with a tactical switch of his own, going 4-4-2. Just like Thistle, this change almost had an immediate impact as Stokes ran on to a long ball and bore down on Tomas Cerny. He tried to round the keeper but saw his shot blocked, before Boyle was robbed and the defence were able to clear.
Sometimes you rue those missed opportunities but Thistle rarely threatened for the rest of the match. Instead, it was Efe Ambrose, moved to right-back in the system switch, who came closest to adding a second when he played a one-two with Shaw and bore down on goal. Instead of shooting, though, he opted to cross and missed Stokes with the cut-back.