Hibs reaction: Deplorable decision, physio's Hokey Cokey, Rangers v Celtic dead rubber, classy banner
All eyes on Europe
Hibs’ initial target of finishing in the top six has been secured, ensuring this season will, at the very least, register an improvement on last season’s eighth place finish, but manager Lee Johnson does not want his men to settle for that. In an intriguing Premiership campaign that has ebbed and flowed beneath the two teams at the top, they are now chasing Europe. After reeling Hearts in with last weekend’s derby win, the two points dropped at McDiarmid Park have dented their hopes but there is still everything to play for, with the final head-to-heads between themselves and the other sides in the top half of the table inescapably important. It is fitting that in a season that has kept everyone engrossed thus far, despite Celtic being crowned winners in waiting a long time ago, the only real dead rubber among the top six fixtures will be the Old Firm contest. With the potential of European qualification open to the top five finishers, every other match will be huge. Third place is, obviously, the most enticing proposition, given the kudos, but also the ready-made passage past extra qualifying rounds and into guaranteed group stage UEFA competition, with all the financial benefits that brings. That target became slightly trickier with the draw instead of the win in Perth, and with the ban that James Jeggo will be hit with following his red card, but no-one at Hibs will give it up until they have to.
Johnson will undoubtedly find himself in a bit of hot water following his post-match comments about the standard of match officiating and the flaws in a disciplinary process that no longer seems to have credibility or the trust of the majority of the game’s participants or exponents but, the truth is, the Hibs manager was simply stating what most managers have hinted at and the majority of observers are thinking. VAR was brought in to try to iron out those issues but the technology and the system is only as good as the people handling it and, in Scotland, it has been implemented poorly by referees who dip below expected standards on a regular basis. Yet, too many poor performances are seemingly defended or ignored by their bosses and the culprits left to run riot in the top flight week after week. The hullabaloo over the past week due to the handling of the Graeme Shinnie situation was bad enough but the widely-ridiculed sending off of James Jeggo has simply stirred the pot and, at a pivotal point in the season, with so much still at stake, both decisions could unfairly hamper their sides’ ambitions. Add to that the comical sight of Hibs’ poor physio having to perform a touchline Hokey Vokey, as Craig Napier demanded he take the field to attend to a player who was already on his feet and adamant that he simply needed a moment, not treatment, was downright bizarre. It forced Kevin Nisbet to leave the field when there was no head knock and left onlookers baffled. It is no wonder that players and managers get frustrated.
The latest manager to pay the price for dropped points, Callum Davidson was gone but not forgotten at McDiarmid Park on Saturday. It is a measure of just how unimaginable the double cup winning feats of the previous manager were that, despite delivering just two wins in 16 since Christmas time, leaving the team dangerously-close to the relegation zone, there was a metaphorical doffing of the cap as a huge banner was unfurled declaring: ‘You made the impossible dream our reality. Thank you Callum’. In a sport when memories are often short it was a laudable tribute to the man who added a silver lining to the club’s history. But it was his assistant Steven MacLean who has been tasked with helping them avoid the drop in what is now likely to be a tense and trying conclusion to the season. The point against Hibs might have seemed a decent take, although the manner in which they peppered David Marshall’s goal late on must have left them feeling that it might have been more. And, they will have been kicking themselves after the game when they learned of results elsewhere.
Victories for both Dundee United and Kilmarnock saw those teams close to within two points of the Perth side as they now head into the split and a run of head to heads which will determine which tier they will operate on next term. There was frustration but also some signs of positivity in the way they saw out the game and they will have to take that into the remaining games. “We’re disappointed not to win the three points – the stats show it,” said MacLean “We could have done with a break as well, although when Marsh has made his saves we probably should have had someone following in but we’ll look at that. The players gave what I asked of them and more. We spoke during the week about playing with energy and they gave us that and anyone watching would have seen nobody left anything out there so I’m chuffed. It was positive, I’ve told them I was happy with them. We have five cup finals left and if we get performances like that we’ll be fine.”