On a chilly afternoon in Motherwell, Hibs appeared to be in cold storage in a miserable first half that had no redeeming features. However, they were red-hot in the second period as goals from Martin Boyle, Christian Doidge and Stephen McGinn moved the Hibees back into third place in the Premiership with a 3-0 victory.
The importance for Hibs to stop Motherwell in their tracks was heightened by the fact the Steelmen were the beneficiaries of not one, but two walkover victories against St Mirren and Kilmarnock due to Covid-19 breaches by their opponents. Defeat in Lanarkshire would have reduced the gap between the duo to two points.
Hibs boss Jack Ross restored Paul Hanlon and Lewis Stevenson to his defence. They were both impeccable, Stevenson in particular. His place in this team is under threat from young pretenders to his left-back throne in Josh Doig and Sean Mackie, but he reminded people of his strengths here.
Drey Wright and Melker Hallberg were also handed starts in midfield. Wright again struggled to make an impact on proceedings. Hallberg did better. The Swede offers a little bit of panache.
Motherwell had their key man, Allan Campbell, back in their engine room after a spell of self-isolation. He was the hosts’ pack leader, driving them forward. Motherwell did not swamp Hibs in the first half, but they were the more threatening. A disallowed goal by Tony Watt just before the interval was the most noteworthy incident.
Hibs were rotten in the first period. They went 4-2-3-1 to avoid being overrun by Motherwell and while that worked, they posed no threat in attack. Kevin Nisbet was dominated by Bevis Mugabi, starved of support and any meaningful service. Had Hibs fans been here to watch it, they would’ve made discontent known in person rather than over social media. Motherwell’s debutant goalkeeper Jordan Archer barely touched the ball.
Whatever Ross said at half-time, it was heeded, as they were so much more adventurous in the second 45. It felt like a handbrake had been removed, with midfielders pushing forward and adding tempo to their play.
The breakthrough arrived on 59 minutes. A deep cross from Hallberg found Boyle and his angled drive smacked the post on its way in.
Motherwell rallied. Mugabi heavy-petted the woodwork with a monster header and at times, Hibs flirted with danger with some slack passing. Their defence, however, stood firm, as they have done so often this season.
Boyle came very close to a second goal of his own, a shot that was goalbound until a nick off Declan Gallagher. But on 88 minutes, the points were secured when the ever-classy Joe Newell fed substitute Christian Doidge and his carefully-placed effort left Archer with no chance. Stephen McGinn then added some gloss in stoppage time, taking advantage of some poor Motherwell defending.
With Aberdeen dropping points, this was a huge win for Hibs at Fir Park.
Motherwell: Archer, O’Donnell, Mugabi, Gallagher, McGinley, O’Hara, Campbell, Polworth (Hastie 82), Lang, Long (Seedorf 70), Watt.
Hibs: Marciano, P McGinn, Porteous, Hanlon, Stevenson, Wright (Doidge 69), Hallberg (S McGinn 76), Newell, Murphy (Gullan 76), Boyle, Nisbet.