Motherwell 1-0 Hibs: Steelmen punish slack visitors

This was supposed to be a fresh start for Hibs in the league. Instead it was another night of frustration as Motherwell found the spark needed to separate the sides and take all three points.

Stephane Omeonga made his debut for Hibs but couldn't help his new side as they went down 1-0 to Motherwell. Picture: SNS Group

The capital side headed west with the expressed intention of building on their Scottish Cup victory over lowly Elgin City and translating some of that positivity into decent Premiership form.

A stuttering start to the campaign had left the Leith side sitting eighth in the table and manager Neil Lennon was desperate to banish the kind of form that has seen then head into the winter break on the back of four games without a victory. That has left them with some ground to make up and while three points wouldn’t catapult them into the top six, it would allow them to edge closer to those above them and give them something to build on.

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Newcomer Stephane Omeonga was given his debut, while Sean Mackie was dropped to the bench, replaced in the backline by Ryan Porteous who was brought in to help nullify the physical threat posed by Curtis Main.

The rearguard reshuffle did not reap immediate rewards though as Motherwell unsettled their guests, pressing high up the park and forcing some sloppy passes as the capital side struggled to stamp any authority on the game.

But if Hibs had disappointed in the first half of the league campaign, Motherwell had also struggled as injuries and dips in form took their toll. Clear of relegation troubles, they are still looking for better over the next few months.

Dumped out of the Scottish Cup by Ross County at the weekend, the Well boss Stephen Robinson made five changes to his starting line up as he sought a positive reaction from his squad. Among those starting on the bench was Ross McCormack, the prodigal son, who fans are expecting a lot from in his second spell at the Fir Park club.

The home gaffer instead placed his faith in teenager Jake Hastie, who spent the first half of the season out on loan at Alloa Athletic but has been given the opportunity to impress for his parent club.

He had come on and scored a goal on Saturday, one of the few highlights in a match that still smarts in these parts, and he was an effervescent presence again in this contest as Motherwell carved out the best of the chances, much to the chagrin of an animated Lennon in the opposition technical area.

His January recruits had promised better when they combined in the third minute, the Belgian on loan from Genoa, feeding Ryan Gauld but the Scot, on loan from Sporting CP couldn’t get over the cutback and sent his volley over.

At the other end Gboly Ariyibi burst in from the left to test Ofir Marciano but the keeper who was between the sticks following a head knock to Adam Bogdan on Saturday was able to save..

In the 16th minute Tom Aldred fouled Hanlon and Steve Mallan fired in a low free kick, which ricocheted off a team-mate and into Porteous who attempted an ambitious overhead kick. It was one of Hibs’ few shots on target but it was straight into the body of the well-positioned Mark Gillespie.

The pace and running of both Ariyibi and hastie on either flank was an issue for Hibs, as was the pressure exerted in the middle of the park and the dogged persistence of Main up front. But on a night where they failed to find anything like their best form, they also contributed to their downfall.

Sloppy in possession, that almost gave Hastie and Main the chance to punish them. Darting forward, the youngster whipped the ball in from the right and Main went for the glancing header at the near post but he was judiciously man-marked by Porteous and McGregor.

Main had a low angled drive stopped by Marciano and in the 23rd minute but Hibs woes mounted in the 27th minute when Porteous, who is just back from a knee injury, hobbled off after an innocuous collision with Main.

Soon after Ariyibi left everyone in his wake as he raced into the area and zipped a dangerous ball across the face of goal but Main, sliding in, just couldn’t connect as the golden opportunity went abegging.

But the goal did come for the home side. A minute before the interval Hastie evaded Mallan and Horgan and skipped past Mackie as he galloped up the right flank. Threading a ball inside, Turnbull latched onto it and slammed it past Marciano.

Motherwell were the side who had looked the more switched on and the appetite of Hastie and Co left Hibs unable to regain parity.

Lennon tried switching personnel. Omeonga was replaced by Slivka at half time and Oli Shaw was eventually sent on for Marvin Bartley as they tried to salvage something from the contest but while they showed greater intent in the second half, they did not click as a team and there was no real quality in the final third. With three minutes remaining, it looked like they might equalise but when the ball skipped across the face of Gillespie’s goal, neither Kamberi nor Shaw could connect properly. It summed up their evening.