How Hibs forward Jamie Murphy illuminated turgid encounter with Dundee as hosts progress
The difference between the teams at the final whistle, it eschewed the scrappy fodder pedalled throughout the majority of a match where the Championship side battled hard and did well to limit Hibs, but conjured up very little to suggest they could grab a goal and boost their chances of making it into the next round of the Betfred Cup.
Clear-cut chances were at a premium at both ends, but with half-time looming, Hibs’ ability to turn defence into attack so swiftly allowed them to get through on Dundee keeper Jack Hamilton and, having opened his Hibs account against Celtic, last week, Jamie Murphy provided a top class finish to maintain his form.
With a stalemate of a match-up calling for someone to provide a cutting edge, Hibs found it just before half-time.
Counter-attacking, Christian Doidge slipped a short pass into his strike-mate Kevin Nisbet and showing great composure, instead of rushing his next move, the club’s top goalscorer took a breath and a turn away from the closing Dundee presence before stroking a ball out to the left flank, where Jamie Murphy was on the move.
With plenty of distance still to cover, the winger showed superb pace as he ate it up and, through on the away goal, he sent a low left foot angled drive beyond Hamilton and into the net.
It was a goal that would send Hibs into the Betfred Cup quarter-final draw, and when the dust settled that is all that really mattered to the Premiership side but it was probably a more stuffy and difficult game than they would have wanted.
Not a repeat of two weeks ago
Just a few weeks ago, the same teams had faced up at the same venue, in the same tournament. That time it was the group stages, with a seeded spot in the knockout rounds at stake and although there were some sticky moments and Dundee gave them a slight start when they equalised, the Leith side ran out extremely comfortable 4-1 winners that day.
Manager Jack Ross and his players had said all the right things in the build up, about how tough they expected Dundee to make it. But, it was probably more evenly-balanced than they would have liked, The only relief was the fact they were fairly impotent in front of goal, meaning that goalkeeper Ofir Marciano was never really threatened.
James McPake’s men did manage to get the ball in the net just after the interval after former Hibs defender Liam Fontaine’s long throw was flicked on by Lee Ashcroft and Alex Jakubiak finished, but by the time the away players wheeled away in celebration, the assistant referee’s flag was already raised to signal offside.
If McPake was worried about his team’s inability to convert opportunities, there will be some concern at Hibs regarding the same thing.
Lack of cutting edge – but balance
While there were several openings carved out, few found the target. Nisbet came close in the opening stages when he forced a fingertip save from Hamilton and he had another later on when Martin Boyle’s work out on the right, set up an effort that ricocheted off the post, landing at Nisbet’s feet. Given a surprising amount of room by the away defence, he sent it soaring over.
But for Hibs, it is all about the balancing act. Last season there were similar issues with their team equilibrium and they appeared to have resolved them, keeping things tight at the back while also scoring goals at the other end.
Whether unsettled by the numerous international breaks or simply psychologically tired by the expectation levels which have risen due to the impressive start to the season, there has been a downturn in form in recent week while injuries and a desire to rotate the players have robbed the side of some of the stability it showed early doors.
Changes and Hanlon missed
The was a return to the 4-4-2 formation favoured by Hibs, with Christian Doidge returning to the starting line up to partner Nisbet. It meant that something had to give in midfield, though. Murphy and Boyle retained their positions on the wings but one of the key players in the first quarter of the season, Alex Gogic, was sacrificed in the middle of the park, leaving Joe Newell and Stevie Mallan to work together to provide defensive cover as well as attacking support. Both quality players, they do not tend to complement each other as well.
Behind them, Darren McGregor was back in the team, having deputised for the injured Paul Hanlon, when he was forced off with a groin injury against St Johnstone. Hanlon instead found a role as an extra pair of eyes in the stand, overseeing proceedings with a mask and a walkie talkie and reporting back to the coaching staff.
On the pitch, Hanlon’s usual centre-back partner Ryan Porteous nudged one step over to his left, gifting McGregor his usual position on the right side of that defensive pairing.
But, again it came down to balance. While both central defenders can attack a ball, and are robust in the tackle and in the air, their distribution is less refined than Hanlon’s tends to be and the Scotland international’s greater composure was missed.
A much-needed clean sheet
Solid, though, they were part of a rearguard that managed to deal convincingly with the blunt Dundee attacks, keeping them at arms’ length and allowing them to run out of steam and ideas.
For the first time in six games, Hibs were able to claim a clean sheet and it was enough to see them through to the quarter-finals. In the end, that is all that mattered. But they know there is room for improvement as they continue to work on regaining their balance.
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