The news Jason Naismith and Ryan Porteous have been sidelined for several months after picking up knee injuries in Sunday’s Scottish Cup draw at Dundee United has been hard to process. This was the perfect pick-me-up even if the medication took some time – and three substitutes - to work.
Second half goals from Christian Doidge and Paul Hanlon, with five minutes left, overturned Alex Gogic’s headed opener after 18 minutes.
The SFA will consider what will be Rice’s sanction in due course. The support his club have already given him indicates how key to their plans he has become. It’s easy to see why they think so highly of him. Owain Fon Williams has his back too judging from last night’s display.
The goalkeeper’s heroics were not enough, however, to take anything from Easter Road,
Manager Jack Ross did not waste any time making changes after Hamilton left the field at half time with a deserved 1-0 lead. The reception Rice was handed last night was certainly warmer than the one the home supporters afforded their own players as they left the field at the interval.
The in-form Boyle was at the heart of the comeback. His shot bounced off the post and was knocked in by expert poacher Doidge for his 11th of the season. Veteran Hanlon completed the about-turn with just five minutes left courtesy of a crashing header from Boyle’s cross.
The winger had been Hibs’ only real success in the opening half. He may or may not have been the subject of Michael O’Neill’s interest. The Stoke City manager was sitting in the directors’ box. Celtic were also represented, with Boyle again the reported reason.
Lewis Smith, another player attracting attention, started on the bench for Hamilton but appeared in the second half as Hibs started to impose themselves more.
Boyle had at least trying to take up dangerous positions for Hibs. There was precious little else for O’Neill or anyone else to note. Not so in the visitors’ ranks, with Gogic a constant thorn in Hibs’ side and their former midfielder Martin Smith running the show in midfield.
The returning Stephane Omeonga started on the bench but he did not have to wait long for his second debut. He was thrown on along with Joe Newell at half-time for Vykintas Slivka and Melker Hallberg respectively. The double switch in Hibs’ engine room indicated where manager Jack Ross reckoned the fault lay but, in truth, the hosts were labouring all over the pitch. Scott Allan lasted only eight minutes of the second half before being replaced by Daryl Horgan.
Ross was certainly vindicated in making these changes. Horgan, for example, made an immediate impact. Hamilton failed to clear their lines after good work from him on the left and the ball landed very invitingly at Florian Kamberi’s feet. His powerful shot was blocked at point black distance by Owain Fon Williams. The ‘keeper then also saved the follow up effort from Doidge in what was an all-action performance – although he was booked for time wasting with ten minutes left.
This was shortly after the pick of his stops to deny Horgan. Kamberi squared for the unmarked Horgan who swept in a shot from 12 yards that looked bound for the net. Fon Williams dived to his left to make a remarkable save. And to think Hamilton have been busy this week negotiating the return of goalkeeper Luke Southwood on loan from Reading.
Hamilton, who handed Andy Dales his league debut, looked perky from the off. George Oakley tried to do too much rather than simply shoot at goal when presented with a decent opportunity in the opening minute. He limped off before the half hour mark to be replaced by Marios Ogkmpoe. The switch did not appear to affect Hamilton’s rhythm. A Blair Alston shot flew narrowly past Marciano’s far post.
They were already in front thanks to the lively Gogic beating everyone else in a crowded box to the ball after McMann’s corner. He had forced the set piece in the first place when sending a throw-in into the box that Hanlon headed behind. The 100 or so visiting supporters seated at that end had plenty of space in which to celebrate.
But pressure mounted on the goal in front of them in the second half. Doidge could not miss from a yard out when Boyle’s effort rebounded back off the post after the winger had been played in by Kamberi. Hamilton fought hard to hang on but were undone by slack marking from Boyle’s cross after 85 minutes. Hanlon rose to ensure all those first-half frustrations were swept away on a night when only the result really mattered.