Even Stevens do their double act

WHEN Colin Calderwood took over as Hibs manager the sound of players being booed off the Easter Road turf by their own support was the common soundtrack. Ten months on and little has changed. At half-time and on the final whistle the same disdainful sound echoed round the ground and one wonders how long this manager will have.

It makes this week’s matches, against Berwick in the League Cup and then the first derby of the season at Tynecastle, must-win encounters.

While St Mirren seem to have carried out some decent tinkering work in the close season, Hibs’ makeover is nowhere near as flattering.

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Despite taking a one-goal lead in this match they allowed their guests to settle into a rhythm and carve out two goalscoring chances as the first half reached a conclusion. Having forfeited their lead, they showed little in the second period to suggest that they could win it back.

Against one of the league’s born survivors of the past few seasons, Hibs had neither the wherewithal nor the fight to prosper.

This defeat means it is now three losses in their first four league games. Three goals from four and all have been scored by Garry O’Connor, including that injury-time effort at Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Had it not been for that last-gasp effort Hibs would have been sitting bottom of the league this morning.

Colin Calderwood desperately needs to field another option to complement the lone figure of O’Connor up front, because, without that, the Hibs gameplan was all too transparent and any specks of creativity too fleeting.

Plan A was to get the ball wide or high up to the former Scotland striker. There wasn’t a Plan B. Once Danny Lennon’s men had sussed that and closed in on the Hibs striker, getting numbers out to stifle the supply from Ivan Sproule and making sure there were no easy takes for O’Connor, there was no way back.

In the early stages it had looked as though St Mirren might struggle with Sproule’s darting runs down the right, with poor Jeroen Tesselaar at full stretch to simply keep the winger in sight. But the Dutchman stuck to his task.

Sproule was the architect of the opener for Hibs. Robbing St Mirren of possession wide on the right he stole a few yards, cut inside and evaded a couple of defenders before stabbing it in to O’Connor in a central area, his first touch taking him into space behind the defence before a low strike to Craig Samson’s right.

That was in the 25th minute and, for the next 15 minutes, Hibs looked good for that lead. While St Mirren were passing the ball about and linking up well, they lacked the tempo and the real drive to contrive a clinical end product, but that changed in the 42nd minute, when Tesselaar turned the tables on Hibs.

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A combination of some determined play, a splash of composure and some inspired football saw him turn provider as first he supplied Steven Thompson and then Steven Thomson as St Mirren equalised then took the lead in time added on in the first half.

“It’s [a feeling of] agitation,” said the disappointed Hibs manager. “We are annoyed at the period before half time and what we needed was a better response to get ourselves back in the game. They really played the second half well from a lead and controlled it and we didn’t possess enough quality and looked a little bit anxious on occasion.”

It says much for the new sense of belief and the determination to play a more passing and flair-based brand of football that St Mirren manager Danny Lennon professed himself disappointed with the performance if not the result, which now takes them fourth in the league, ahead of Rangers, albeit that the Ibrox club have two games in hand.

The first goal came three minutes before the interval. And Hibs inability to retain possession from a corner kick combined with Tesselaar’s invention and reading of the game saw him rob Callum Booth before unselfishly playing in striker Thompson.

Two minutes later he muscled out Hibs full-back Victor Palsson and this time played the pass into midfielder Thomson who finished clinically.

It was another costly mistake from a Hibs side finding life hard enough right now without gifting goals. The question is how soon before Hibs fans decide that the costliest mistake of all was not cashing in on the manager when they had the chance.