Whittaker puts win down to innocence of youth

HIBS goal hero Steven Whittaker believes the "innocence of youth" was the secret behind the Easter Road outfit’s victorious start to the New Year.

Having surrendered a two-goal lead a more experienced side might well have settled for a point - but not Bobby Williamson’s youngsters who, again, showed their determination to keep going right to the final whistle.

And once more they got their rewards, Whittaker’s first goal in a green and white shirt the eighth Hibs have scored in the final 15 minutes of matches, strikes which have earned precious points in their battle to earn a top six finish this season.

Whittaker’s moment of glory may have sent the home fans into ecstasy but it was hard not to feel for Partick Thistle who rightly felt they had done enough in the second 45 minutes to clinch a point at least.

Such a scenario seemed highly unlikely at the interval, however, with goals from Garry O’Connor and Stephen Dobbie having, seemingly, put Hibs on easy street, the only debate over the pies and Bovril being how many more they might get in the second-half so ineffectual had Thistle been.

The Jags, though, turned the tables on Hibs after the restart as they opted to miss out the midfield area in which Grant Brebner and Kevin Thomson had held a steely grip, going instead for the long ball.

The tactic worked a treat as Hibs were forced on to the back foot; a defence which had been well in command suddenly put under continual threat.

Thistle’s dominance was such that ten of the 11 corners they won during the match came in the second-half with Hibs relying on the brilliance of goalkeeper Daniel Andersson to keep them ahead after James Grady had stolen in on the blind side to rifle Derek Fleming’s cross into the net.

Fleming was left rubbing his eyes in disbelief as the Swede threw himself high to his left to touch over his free-kick before Grady found himself reacting similarly after Andersson had parried his point-blank shot following a loose pass from Mathias Doumbe which put Colin Murdock in trouble.

Andersson was at it again as he clawed away a powerful header from David Lilley as Hibs hung on in desperation, Partick’s co-manager Derek Whyte describing his interventions as "world-class", while his own boss was less effusive, saying: "That’s what he’s there for - it’s a team game and we all take credit when we win."

Andersson was finally beaten again when, in trying to deal with Fleming’s vicious in-swinging corner, he succeeded only in punching the ball against Adrian Madaschi.

The Partick defender knew little about it but both he and the ball ended up in the back of the net. It was a bizarre incident which appeared to have won the SPL’s basement club a point until Whittaker, switched from right-back to the left side of midfield to accommodate the return of Stephen Glass, took a hand in proceedings.

The industry of O’Connor, who is slowly but surely showing signs of regaining his form of a couple of seasons ago, created the opening, the striker feeding an inviting ball into his team-mate’s feet.

Even so, Whittaker had work to do as he was faced by Lilley. But the 19-year-old displayed an old head on young shoulders as he switched the ball from his right foot to his left before dispatching it beyond Kenny Arthur and into the far corner of the net.

Only five minutes remained on the clock, leaving Whittaker to reflect: "That’s not a bad time to score. The fact it proved to be the winner made my first goal that wee bit extra special.

"When Garry put me in the defender just kept backing away from me. I knew he wouldn’t dive in because we were in the penalty box so I switched the ball to my left foot and hit it hard and low across the goalkeeper.

"I was delighted to see it go in off the far post. I’ve come on as a sub and had one or two long-range efforts but up until this point I’d never really been presented with a clear-cut chance.

"I’ve scored a few goals for the under-21 side and I do like to get forward and into the box whether playing full-back or midfield so hopefully I’ll find myself in similar situations in future - everyone likes to get a goal."

Whyte admitted afterwards he had hoped Hibs young players might crumble if Thistle could come back at them as they did, but Whittaker insisted he and his team-mates weren’t simply going to fold when put under such pressure.

When it was put to him that a more battle-hardened side might have settled for a point after seeing a two-goal lead evaporate, Whittaker said: "Perhaps it was down to the innocence of youth, but we have experienced players to help us through and the fact is that we’ll keep working hard, we’ll never give up.

"We’ve developed a great habit of scoring late goals and perhaps that’s because we are such a young side. Perhaps we are a bit more energetic and maybe our fitness levels are a bit higher than other teams and that’s what tells in the end."

Being first-footed by Thistle may not have the same appeal as a visit from arch-rivals Hearts to see in the New Year, but neither set of fans could complain at the quality of the entertainment served up in what proved to be a pulsating 90 minutes.

Although he was disappointed at the final outcome, Whyte acknowledged as much as he said: "It was a wonderful match from the neutrals’ point-of-view and while we didn’t get any points, [co-manager] Gerry Britton and I were delighted with the effort and commitment from our players.

"Hibs were deservedly up at half-time, they made a better start and were first to every ball, snapping away in midfield and winning everything in that area.

"We were more direct in the second-half and we were by far the better side in that period. At 2-2 away from home we should have settled for a point."

For his part Williamson was happy with the response he got from his players following their six-goal mauling by Celtic.

He said: "We knew we had to start the game well to get the fans onside, to encourage them to encourage us.

"Partick changed things at half-time and imposed themselves on the game but, being two goals down, they had to have a go.

"We knew the next goal would be important so it was disappointing we conceded it and then another.

"But we kept going and got the three points with that late goal. Credit to Whittaker for being positive in that situation."

The win hoisted Hibs to seventh place in the table, only two points separating them from fifth spot. Their position in the league underlines how important that victory was for the Leith club - as Whittaker agreed.

He said: "There was a lot of disappointment after the Celtic game and we definitely needed the three points because we want to be up there challenging in the top six."