Paul Heckingbottom claims anxiety from the stands is spreading to the Hibs players

St Johnstone deserved to win this one, although Hibernian should have. But Easter Road manager Paul Heckingbottom said that anxiety emanating from the stands had impacted on his team.
Hibernian manager Paul Heckingbottom. Picture: SNSHibernian manager Paul Heckingbottom. Picture: SNS
Hibernian manager Paul Heckingbottom. Picture: SNS

Urging the fans to ditch the negativity, while telling his players to toughen up, he said that he was surprised by the boos, claiming that there would be many more draws to contend with before the end of the season.

It is not the kind of comment that will placate a support, many of whom are still looking to be convinced by the gaffer and many of his new signings.

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The fact that the one guy they do rate, Scott Allan, does not seem to have the same star billing when it comes to the man in charge was another source of discontent, with a chorus of boos the immediate response to his 60th minute substitution.

“I didn’t know there was a law against taking him off,” said Heckingbottom, who was understandably disappointed to see his men concede their lead in time added on. “No player’s going to play 90 minutes every game. I’ve worked with Scott all week and know what he’s been like. He’s not been at his best in training. He’s played 120 minutes last week and was carrying a knock.

“I didn’t bring him off because he was injured but he was suffering. That’ll happen. We all know what a good player Scott is and we all know he’s a fans’ favourite but I’ll probably take him off again before the end of the season. But the reaction doesn’t need to be there.”

Ronald Gordon took in his first match at Easter Road since buying the club in July and as he headed indoors at half-time there was a smile and a fist pump as he acknowledged the home fans around the directors box.

By that stage the club he says he has fallen in love with were one goal up and while they were far from guaranteed the points in what had, until then, proved a fairly even contest, there was an air of contentment around the ground.

But he will have been acutely aware of the mood change as the match wore on, the rancour in the stands when Allan was substituted and more boos following as they twice conceded their advantage and walked off with a draw.

Hibs have only defeated the Perth side in Leith once in the past seven years and, for all the early season criticism of St Johnstone, they looked more like themselves as they matched their hosts, buoyed by the pace and directness of Michael O’Halloran, who was happy to charge down the wing or cut inside, and the constant threat posed by Matty Kennedy on the other flank.

With chances fairly even in the opening stages, Hibs had taken the lead in the 24th minute. Young Ali McCann’s foul on Flo Kamberi gifted them a free-kick and Stevie Mallan curled in a delivery that was met by Adam Jackson, the defender sending a beautifully placed header across the face of goal to tuck inside the far post.

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In the 49th minute, O’Halloran was leading another charge and was lucky to escape unscathed when Hibs keeper Ofir Marciano tried to snuff out the danger, sprinting out of his box and lunging at the forward. He mis-timed it and caught the player rather than the ball but was let off with a yellow card. In the second half St Johnstone kept at the task and eventually got the reward, netting the equaliser when O’Halloran set the cat among the pigeons, walloping a lovely angled shot high into the net to prompt more booing from the fans.

That seemed to inject a bit of life into the home ranks and there was frustration for the visitors but relief around the majority of the ground as Hibs responded just a minute later when Kamberi’s wee flicked finish found the net.

But, deep into stoppage time, the score was levelled again. This time substitute Danny Swanson sung in a cross and Jason Kerr headed home.

“We have got to learn to keep working and dealing with that but there was a real anxiousness that spread from the stands to the players.

“We are drawing at home and we will draw many more at home this season, without a doubt. It doesn’t help the players – 100 per cent. We need to put it into perspective. We can’t have the players feeling like they do at the minute.”