Hibs continue to set the pace in the Premiership. If they are to sustain a challenge, then this is the sort of ugly, rugged win that will be required to feature among more attractive wins such as Saturday’s 4-1 victory at Livingston.
Three games down, two of which have been away, and Hibs have maximum points. It is the first time they have won their first three matches in a top-flight season since 1974-75. “It’s nice to hear a stat from before I was born,” said manager Jack Ross later.
This might well count as the most pleasing of these latest victories, including a 2-1 opening day triumph over Kilmarnock. Christian Doidge’s 65th minute strike from a tight angle was the difference in an evenly contested, sometimes bruising battle as Hibs just about coped with opponents who would seem to have quickly found their feet in this division.
Ross introduced Scott Allan ten minutes after half-time and it took another ten minutes to break the deadlock after Kevin Nisbet flicked on Alex Gogic’s cross. Josh Doig, who posted another impressive performance at left-back, saw his shot blocked after he had strayed into a suspiciously offside position, but Doidge was on hand to lash a fierce left-footed drive into the roof of the net with Benjamin Siegrist beaten at his near post. It was the sort of neat finish the game did not deserve. It was also slightly harsh on United who few could claim did not deserve a point from an undeniably disappointing game between two teams with plenty of reason to feel good about themselves. The visitors were seeking to extend their lead at the top. The hosts were hoping to replace them there just ten days into their return to the top flight.
No one could have any complaint about commitment levels. These remained high despite the absence of fans urging their favourites to contest 50-50 challenges – and also challenges featuring less favourable odds. This was the case when Jamie Robson made a fateful decision to seek to win an aerial battle with Paul McGinn after only seven minutes.
The empty, echoing stadium only amplified the sickening thud that resulted. It was possible to interpret Robson’s actions as either admirably full-hearted or reckless and referee Don Robertson chose the latter. He waved a yellow card at Robson as he was being helped off following a delay of several minutes as both players received treatment on the ground.
The groggy Robson was replaced by Adrian Sporle at left-back. It’s perhaps being kind to attribute the disjointed match that followed to this lengthy stoppage, but the game certainly struggled to ignite thereafter. It hadn’t had a chance to find any flow beforehand.
Lawrence Shankland was one of those so-called privileged few allowed to watch from the stand. But this isn’t where United wanted him.
The official reason for his absence amid reported interest from West Bromwich Albion is an ankle knock. It also kept him out of Saturday’s win at Motherwell. It was hard to say he was missed in a first half when there were precious few chances for poachers from either side to feast upon. Nisbet, fresh from a hat-trick against Livingston, might as well have been sitting in the stand as well.
Play was often breaking down in midfield. Joe Newell was booked for clipping Nicky Clark’s heels and Gogic was punished for a cynical foul on the same player, who was in the process of darting forward.
The nearest anyone came to scoring on both sides in the opening half was when Clark saw his free-kick from just outside the box deflected over after Ryan Porteous was penalised for a foul.
The second half was an improvement. Allan replaced Daryl Horgan, who had switched to playing just behind the front two, ten minutes after half-time. While Allan could not exert his influence as much as he might have hoped the game did seem to open up slightly.
That said, the first chance following his introduction fell to the hosts, Ian Harkes sweeping a shot wide after Luke Bolton’s cutback. United would have cause to rue this near-miss minutes later when Hibs finally broke the deadlock thanks to a hefty dollop of fortune. Play was allowed to continue despite Doig straying offside as Nisbet flicked on Gogic’s cross. The young left-back’s shot was blocked by Bolton but Doidge stroked the ball home from an angle after it had fallen into his path to score his second goal of the season.
United could and probably should have equalised before the end. Peter Pawlett volleyed wide from a good position and Mark Connolly’s header flashed narrowly wide. In the final analysis they lacked the touch of quality possessed by the visitors. And they lacked Shankland, a state of affairs their fans will hope does not persist much longer.
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