Hibs have something to work on after missed opportunities at Ross County
At the beginning of every season managers set targets, but they always insist that there is no way of knowing just how realistic they are until the first round of fixtures are completed.
That gives them the opportunity to size up the opposition, work out their strengths and weaknesses, and re-calibrate their own ambitions.
With their opening 11 Premiership matches completed, Hibs are sitting third, above their main rivals for the Europa League slot in Aberdeen and they have, rightly, been recognised as one of the toughest teams to pay against.
But they are still a work in progress, which was verified by the display against a highly energetic Ross County side, who could have made life more uncomfortable for the Leith side had they had unearthed a more clinical edge.
As it was, Hibs left the Highands with a clean sheet. The only disappointment being that, unusually, they too failed to find the net and, consequently, had to settle for a 0-0 draw.
It mirrored the result Aberdeen got at Tannadice, meaning there was solace in Derek McInnes’ men failing to close the gap on them but there was frustration in failing to move within two points of second-place Celtic.
The initial play suggested that may prove a formality as Hibs, emboldened by the return of their international players and Joe Newell from injury, opened brightly. Martin Boyle pulled a shot just inches wide and Kyle Magennis, making his first league start, saw his shot from the edge of the box rattle the inside of the far post and bounce out, while Kevin Nisbet also went close.
High press hurts Hibs
Those moments passed though and Stuart Kettlewell’s men started to press high, hunting in packs as they hustled and hurried their guests. It pinned Hibs back and cut off a lot of the service to the front man, forcing them to drop deeper to gain possession or feed off rushed long balls.
But lacking the right decision and finish, the host team couldn’t penetrate a Hibs backline that has been growing in stature this season and has been bolstered by the fact that so many of them have now earned international recognition.
Organised and resolute, they restricted County – who had Connor Randall sent off on 78 minutes – to long range efforts, none of which, embarrassingly for their frontmen, troubled Ofir Marciano.
Better in second period
Having set high standards this term, Hibs boss Jack Ross addressed the dip in performance at half-time and it stirred a better showing in the second half as the midfield reminded viewers of the attacking prowess that complements their defensive doggedness.
That combination is the reason Hibs have only lost two games in the opening round of fixtures. But this time, they failed to piece it all together and they had to settle for a share of the spoils. A work in progress, they still added to their points tally and their ability to keep doing that, when there are those dips, is the reason they are challenging at the right end of the table and why the season’s targets remain high.
Ross County: Doohan; Randall, Donaldson (Grivosti 76), Iacovitti, Watson; Vigurs; Charles-Cook, Lakin (Kelly 77), Paton (Tillson 88), Gardyne (McKay 82); Stewart.
Hibs: Marciano; McGinn, Porteous, Hanlon; Boyle, Magennis (Mallan 64), Gogic, Newell, Stevenson (Gullan 84); Doidge, Nisbet.
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