THIS time last year, Hibernian were about to embark on a ruinous run of six consecutive defeats. Last night they managed to make it six wins on the bounce, although it was a lot more stressful than it should have been.
Scorers: Hibs - Cummings (31), Dja Djedje (89). Livingston - Sekajja (88)
After near total dominance, Hibs needed to rely on a late winner from Franck Dja Djedje to secure the points. The striker’s inspiration had to be applauded but it represented heartbreak for the beleaguered visitors, who could do with a break at the moment.
To the dismay of the majority inside Easter Road, Livingston managed to score what many presumed had been a precious equaliser with three minutes to go after Ibra Sekajja steered a loose ball into the net, following a throw-in. But it was not to be. Sekajja had barely completed his last handstand in celebration before Hibs had come up with a reply. In what was a thrilling conclusion, Dja Djedje rose to meet Lewis Stevenson’s fine cross from the left two minutes later to head into the far corner of Darren Jamieson’s net.
Now five points clear of third-placed Rangers, the goal keeps Hibs’ fate in their own hands. Jason Cummings’ 14th goal of a productive season had got things underway for Hibs on the half hour mark.
The striker might have had several more had he shown just a little more composure in the 70 minutes he was on the pitch. The spurning of opportunities proved not as a costly as many fans feared after Sekajja struck for the visitors to ruin hopes Hibs might be able to keep a fifth consecutive clean sheet for the first time since 1994.
But the Ivory Coast striker Dja Djedje ensured these are again good days to be a Hibs fan, something that was not the case 12 months ago. Hibs could not have been given more of an incentive after the latest failure of Rangers to gain maximum points from a league fixture, against Queen of the South on Tuesday. While the Ibrox club have been preoccupied with off-field ownership issues, Hibs have managed to ensure the pendulum has shifted in their favour when it comes to securing second spot.
Of course, there is bound to be several more twists and turns before the season has run its course, with Hibs also fighting on a second front in the Scottish Cup. This might be one reason why manager Alan Stubbs shuffled his pack to the extent he did last night, making four changes to the side that defeated Berwick Rangers in Sunday’s Scottish Cup quarter-final.
Unfortunately for those children attending what was a Hibs kids’ game, one of the stars in Scott Allan dropped to the bench. But another home favourite in the shape of Cummings was in the thick of it from the beginning.
A fluffed shot after Dja Djedje’s cut-back did not augur well, and neither did the socks that were quickly rolled down towards his ankles in a seeming sign of his frustration after a longer-distance shot was saved at the second attempt by Jamieson.
It wasn’t only Cummings who was providing the firepower. Martin Boyle proved a menace for the home side as his pace caused the Livingston rearguard problems. But when Cummings skewed a shot wide Hibs fans’ fears that this was going to be one of those nights accumulated.
But the same player was coolness personified after opening the scoring on the half-hour mark following a fine through-ball from Liam Craig. Cummings’ nerve did not fail him as he drew and then rounded Jamieson before steering the ball into the net, where the despairing Declan Gallagher joined it after his gallop back to try and intervene.
Hibs almost paid the price for profligacy when Hanlon was almost undone by Danny Mullen’s promptings. When the Livingston substitute went down in the box under a challenge from Hanlon, the silence denoted the concern felt by the home supporters. This stunned atmosphere was replicated when Sekajja struck in the dying minutes. But Hibs are made of sterner stuff theses days, and Dja Djedje rose to the challenge of keeping his side’s momentum going.
Hibernian: Oxley, Watson, Hanlon, Fontaine, Boyle, Fyvie, Robertson, Craig (Stanton 80), Stevenson, Cummings (McGeough 70), Dja Djedje. Subs not used: Forster, Handling, Allan, Malonga, Perntreou.
Livingston: Jamieson, Sives, Cole, Fordyce, Talbot (Glen 83), Gallacher, Kyle Jacobs, Keaghan Jacobs, McKenna (Hippolyte 76), Sekajja, Pitman (Mullen 70). Subs not used: O’Brien, Walker, Praprotnik, Beaumont.