Paul Heffernan impact transforming Hibs

A first home win of the season for Hibernian, and just the second time in 2013 that they have picked up three points at Easter Road.
Paul Heffernan wheels away after scoring his second goal in successive games for Hibs on Saturday. Picture: Greg MacveanPaul Heffernan wheels away after scoring his second goal in successive games for Hibs on Saturday. Picture: Greg Macvean
Paul Heffernan wheels away after scoring his second goal in successive games for Hibs on Saturday. Picture: Greg Macvean

Hibernian 2-0 St Mirren

Scorers: Hibernian - Collins (10), Heffernan (61)

Referee: S McLean

Attendance: 9,417

It was all achieved with such apparent ease that any casual visitor could have been forgiven for wondering why it had not happened more often.

The answer to that comes in two parts. First, this Hibs side are more effective, more of a team, than they were a few weeks ago, never mind a few months. And second, they don’t get to play against opposition as hopeless as St Mirren every week.

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When teams in trouble suggest they only need a stroke of luck for their bad run to end, they are usually referring to the break of the ball on the park. In Hibs’ case, the good fortune seems to have been the sudden availability of Paul Heffernan in the last days of the transfer window.

The former Kilmarnock striker is not only an effective performer himself, he has given James Collins, his partner up front, renewed confidence. From being a player who felt weighed down by his £200,000 price tag, Collins is now playing with far more self-assurance. He is not half as cunning as Heffernan but his bulk can cause defences problems, and it was fitting that both men should end up on the scoresheet.

The balance that Hibs have up front is now beginning to be matched in other areas of the team. With Liam Craig and Scott Robertson on the flanks and Kevin Thomson and Tom Taiwo in the centre, the midfield looks far more settled now. And, in defence, Michael Nelson brings the solidity which, for so long, was lacking.

There are still deficiencies. Neither Thomson nor Taiwo provides the thrust through the middle that is needed at times, for instance. Owain Tudur Jones, out injured on Saturday, is that kind of player, but may have to be patient before getting back into the side: Pat Fenlon, having taken so long to find a workable formula, is unlikely to change it any time soon.

There is also a ponderousness about Hibs that other teams can exploit, and that was only rectified here for the closing eight minutes, when Sam Stanton and Abdellah Zoubir came off the bench and were given licence to attack directly. Time and again in the first half, passes which could have cut the defence open if made immediately were only delivered after a few seconds’ deliberation, too late to do any damage.

Certainly, if Hibs had attacked with more pace in the first half, they could have gone in three or four goals to the good. As it was, they had to make do with one, scored in the opening ten minutes by Collins. A Craig free-kick from the left was headed on by Nelson and, with the St Mirren defence slow to react, the ex-Swindon man was able to nod in past Christopher Dilo. The teenage goalkeeper looked hesitant at times, unsurprisingly given the lack of support he got from most of his team-mates. But he also pulled off some good saves, notably in the last five minutes of the first half from shots by Heffernan and Robertson.

The fact was, no matter how slow Hibs were at times, St Mirren were slower. Centre-half Marc McAusland kept his level of play up but, otherwise, Danny Lennon’s side were severely substandard. In times like these, teams need a cause to rally round, or a manager to fight for, and this lot just don’t look like they have it.

The visitors did at least begin the second half with a bit more urgency, but it quickly stalled. The pattern from the first half was resumed five minutes in when Craig had a shot saved, and the outcome was put beyond doubt on the hour when Heffernan grabbed his team’s second.

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A run by Alan Maybury was vital to the goal, as he provided the overlap to receive a Robertson pass. The right-back crossed low into the box and, with the St Mirren defence again looking befuddled, Heffernan nipped in to turn the ball into the net.

Collins had the ball in the net again ten minutes later only to be flagged offside but, after that, there was little threat of a goal at either end. Dilo pulled off another good save when Craig tried to chip him from distance after a poor clearance but, at the other end, Ben Williams had nothing worse than a couple of awkward crosses to deal with.

Jake Caprice tried to liven things up for St Mirren when he was brought on for Gary Harkins just after Hibs’ second, but was overshadowed by Stanton and Zoubir. Finally, as if things could not get any worse for the Paisley side, Danny Grainger was sent off for a second yellow card. Both cautions were avoidable, and the second, for taking a free kick too quickly and slamming the ball off Maybury, was all too evidently the result of frustration.

Now up to fifth in the table, Hibs next face a serious test when they visit Inverness. As for St Mirren, whose next match is at home to Aberdeen a week today, it is hard to see where any improvement might come from.