Hibs reaction: Shrewd Johnson signing, Stevie May's Saints impact laid bare, VAR experience

St Johnstone recorded a big 2-1 win over Hibs at Easter Road on the night VAR was officially introduced to the Scottish Premiership. Joel Sked looks back at an eventful night in Leith ...

Premiership excitement

The Scottish Premiership is set to be another wild ride. Last season we witnessed the middle of the league bunch up heading into the split. After Friday night’s encounter there are just eight points separating third and 12th. Hibs will be kicking themselves at missing such a presentable opportunity to consolidate their place in third. They could have put four and six points between themselves and Aberdeen and Hearts respectively. Instead, as Celtic and Rangers waltz off into the distance once more, it demonstrated the relatively even spread across the league with teams capable of taking points off of each other and the fact a wee run can catapult you up the league. Not only were St Johnstone able to put a buffer between themselves and bottom, but they are the same number of points away from third as they are 12th.

Talismanic May

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When the St Johnstone line-up was announced, straight away there were concerns that they would lack an attacking punch. Callum Davidson will have viewed it as a 3-4-3 but what transpired was a disjointed 5-2-2-1 system which left Nicky Clark isolated. Of the 22 players in the first half, no one had fewer touches than the Saints striker’s ten. In fact the five players to have the fewest touches in the first 45 minutes were the visitors’ three attackers and wing-backs. There was no pressure on the ball as Saints appeared reluctant to participate in the encounter.

Enter Stevie May. His presence had a profound impact as did the red card to Hibs’ Kyle Magennis. But even before the sending off, Saints were building into the game with the ball sticking higher up the pitch, allowing the team to have more threatening moments. He had nearly three times as many touches as Clark did in the first half. They have a nice balance as a pairing, the former Dundee United forward’s presence freeing the Saints legend. It is satisfying witnessing May have such moments like his winning goal after suffering such a serious injury and then having his quality and standing at this level doubted. He remains a St Johnstone talisman.

Ukrainian positive

There is plenty of frustration from a Hibs point of view. The red card to Magennis, the debate around whether he should have been taken off, conceding two goals from crosses, an ineffectual display from Martin Boyle after promising so much and the aforementioned missed opportunity to consolidate third. But there were still positives. The team were expansive, aggressive and attacking in the first half, helped by their visitors. Magennis demonstrated his quality and running power prior to his sending off and then there was the performance of Mykola Kuharevich.

VAR in action during St Johnstone's 2-1 at Easter Road against Hibs. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)

The big Ukrainian may be untidy at times but he is a real handful, a nuisance and an effective focal point for Hibs. Against a fearsome St Johnstone backline he held his own, won all his aerial duels and was efficient with his passing as he linked play. While he passed up two good chances early in the first half he arguably netted with the most difficult chance, a towering header from a wonderful Chris Cadden cross. Hibs missed his presence when he was replaced and Johnson hinted he could partner him with Kevin Nisbet when the Scotland striker is back fit. A shrewd recruit.

The VAR experience

The Scottish Premiership had its first experience of VAR and, ultimately, it wasn't painstaking. Supporters appeared to have an understanding of when a check was taking place, even if they were unaware as to what the check was for. The first moment, when Kevin Clancy was in contact with Willie Collum in the VAR hub, passed swiftly. There was a frustration, however, with all three goals being looked at. An element of frustration built as fans waited for play to get underway, while it was never clear as to why they were being studied. As for celebrations, they did not appear to be affected, both on the pitch and in the stands. Although managers may take on a different view.

"I probably didn’t celebrate because I was still angry about the first half still, it was still going round in my head," Saints boss Callum Davidson admitted. “That’s going to happen, celebrations are probably going to be a bit more muted, especially on the sidelines as you wait to see if it’s a goal. I’m delighted with the outcome, I thought VAR was okay, I thought the referees did really well, tried to get the game going as quickly as possible.”

Player ratings

Hibs: Marshall 6; Bushiri 6, Porteous 5, Hanlon 5; Cadden 8, Campbell 5, Magennis 5, Newell 7, Cabraja 6; Boyle 5, Kuharevich 8. Subs: Youan 5, Tavares n/a, McKirdy n/a.

St Johnstone: Matthews 8; Gordon 7, Mitchell 6, Considine 7; Brown 5, Hallberg 6, McGowan 8, Montgomery 5; Wright 5, Clark 7, McLennan 6. Subs: May 8, Murphy 6, Wotherspoon 6, Gallacher n/a, Crawford n/a.

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