Hibernian 1 - 0 St Mirren: Scott Allan marks return to Hibs with late winner

It wasn’t just the sun blazing down on Easter Road that made this a pretty hard shift for Hibs yesterday. A glance at St Mirren’s dismal Betfred Cup results might have lulled some into believing that this Premiership opener would be a bit of a stroll for Paul Heckingbottom’s side.
Hibernian's Scott Allan closes down Cameron MacPherson's clearance. Pic: SNSHibernian's Scott Allan closes down Cameron MacPherson's clearance. Pic: SNS
Hibernian's Scott Allan closes down Cameron MacPherson's clearance. Pic: SNS

Instead, it was an afternoon when only maximum endeavour and a touch of the mercurial class which Scott Allan brings to the table eventually secured the three points with an 85th-minute winner.

There’s nothing like the real thing of the league campaign to concentrate minds and bring out that edge, and perhaps the narrowness of this victory only emphasises yet again that no matter what the format the pre-season takes – friendlies or cup jousts – it can still count for little when the curtain-raiser comes along. Heckingbottom was not surprised in the slightest that St Mirren played like a team utterly transformed yesterday.

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“There’s room for improvement from us, but credit St Mirren, we had spoken and prepared for winning the game in the last five minutes,” he asserted. “No disrespect to Arbroath or Alloa who we played in the cup, but they’re a Premier League side, with a good manager, they’ve made signings and we knew if they sat deep and hit us on the break they would be tough opposition.

“I’m glad we scored the goal in the way we did. Just before that Scott had been in that position and not shot. We can’t do that – there’s better ways to play. This time Scott gets behind their midfield and shoots, and it’s a good goal to win it.

“We deserved the win, but it was looking as though it was going to be one of those days.”

If there were learning points for Hibs, they could certainly do worse than heed the way that St Mirren manager Jim Goodwin had clearly absorbed the lessons presented to him in recent weeks. His side were compact and tenacious, falling back in numbers when needed and making it frustratingly awkward for the hosts to build any kind of attacking momentum throughout this game.

In an incident-shorn opening 45 minutes, a Stevie Mallan 25-yard strike that whistled past the postage-stamp corner of Vaclav Hladky’s goal was as close as Hibs came to finding a way of getting themselves in front. Though the hosts dominated possession, St Mirren managed to carve out at least as many plausible chances from their periodic forward incursions. Impressive close-season summer signing Ilkay Durmus almost gave them a surprise lead as the ball dropped to him on the angle of the six-yard box, but his fierce angled drive was tipped over the bar by Ofir Marciano.

A dash of urgency and a good deal more incisiveness needed to be thrown into the mixer if Heckingbottom’s men were going to prise open the resolutely organised St Mirren rearguard. For a short burst after the interval it looked as though they had come across the magic elixir. In the space of a minute they contrived to hit the same post twice – the first was more than a tad unfortunate for Allan as his delicately chipped shot hit the inside of the goal frame with Hladky beaten all ends up but freakishly rebounded outwards rather than drop in the net. Then Joe Newell’s header did the same thing and although Flo Kamberi was there to roll it over the line the Swiss striker was ruled to be offside – a decision that angered Heckingbottom.

Still the visitors refused to buckle, and the lively Tony Andreu was denied only by fine blocks of contrasting kinds by Paul Hanlon and Marciano. Their resilience was beginning to gnaw at the Hibs support and their anxiety got to the players at times. This was never more painfully exemplified than when Kamberi’s shot was parried by Hladky into the path of substitute Christian Doidge, who somehow managed to miss an easy opportunity to sidefoot it home.

It had stalemate – and a creditable point for St Mirren – written all over it, until Allan chose his moment to bring his gifts to bear in telling fashion. Gliding inside the visitors’ box, he at last made a bit of space and buried a low drive emphatically into the bottom corner of the net. In this part of Edinburgh the festivities could start all over again.

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It was a sore one for Goodwin and his players, but the St Mirren manager had ample positives to fall back on. “When you’ve put that much into the game and lose a goal in the 85th minute it’s very hard to take,” he reflected. “I can’t ask any more of the players: they stuck to the game plan, and they deserve praise for their efforts today.”

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