Why this was such an important Hibs win and the player who made strong impression
Even on opening day in the cinch Premiership campaign, this match between St Johnstone and Hibs had the feel of a big one.
Both teams unceremoniously dumped out of the Premier Sports Cup in the group stages, Saints boss Callum Davidson and Hibs’ Lee Johnson, only just in the door, have felt some heat leading up to the league opener. Both were in need of a win.
It appeared that neither would get is as we entered the 90th minute at McDiarmid Park with the score deadlocked at 0-0, but Ewan Henderson’s corner kick found an unmarked Josh Campbell and his header was deflected past Remi Matthews via the keeper’s unfortunate team-mate Cammy MacPherson.
Cue delirium in the away end. Three thousands Hibs fans celebrated wildly as their team finally broke down a stubborn ten-man St Johnstone, who had played the past 30 minutes with ten men following Murray Davidson’s red card for late tackle on Ryan Porteous.
From the press box, referee Euan Anderson’s decision seemed harsh. A yellow card would have sufficed. Hibs manager Lee Johnson agreed – “it was a lunge, but not a stud lunge if you like, that’s the difference and why I wouldn’t have given a red” – while his counterpart Callum Davidson fumed at the consistency of the officials, given Hibs left-back Marijan Cabraja escaped with only a yellow card for a similar tackle on Ryan McGowan. “I'm just looking for consistency in decisions,” said Davidson. “You come to that second tackle [by Cabraja], to me it's the exact same tackle, there is no difference at all, and he gives him a yellow.”
Davidson felt St Johnstone were solid without being a threat. His new defender Alex Mitchell played well but, on first viewing, this team still has the same deficiencies as last season, when they narrowly avoided relegation. Goals and creativity looks like major problems to solve.
Hibs saw much more of the ball and Henderson was their main source of inspiration in the final third, looking to set Elias Melkersen and Jair Tavares free on either flank. Tavares blazed over in the first half after some neat trickery in a stodgy first half, while Henderson himself wastefully volleyed over after an excellent cross by Cabraja.
It is worth singling out Cabraja, a 25-year-old Croat signed from Dinamo Zagreb, who was making his debut after his work permit came through. He was the man of the match, strong in attack and defence, and Hibs fans will have enjoyed their first look at him.
French striker Elie Youan also made his maiden appearance and after a lively beginning, he faded somewhat and got little change out of the St Johnstone rearguard.
Nevertheless, the points head back down the M90 and given they face Hearts next weekend at Easter Road, this will give the Hibs players – many of whom are new to the club – some much-needed confidence. Johnson spoke of a buoyant dressing-room at full time. Victories in such a manner often raise morale.
They will need to find another gear against the Jambos next week, for they will be stronger than St Johnstone, but after a trying few weeks, this was a welcome afternoon for those of a Hibs persuasion.