NEWS was only just filtering through to Easter Road that Celtic had gone behind. Seeing out the draw would take Hibs joint top of the SPL, only goal difference denying them top place. A win, though, would give them pole position.
• Hibernian 0
• Aberdeen 1: McGinn 77
Ref: B Madden
At that stage, such an outcome did not look beyond them. Leigh Griffiths had spent the latter stages of the first half and most of the second peppering Jamie Langfield’s goal with shots. A breakthrough seemed almost inevitable.
But these teams have a lot in common. Both have performed a remarkable turnaround in fortunes since last term, both have a consistent goalscorer in their ranks. With little to separate so many of the teams in the SPL, the big difference between those trying to get a foothold in the top six, and those already there is the presence of a goal threat. Hibs’ star man gave everything he had yesterday to find the breakthrough but met stern resistance from the Aberdeen goalkeeper Langfield.
At the other end, though, Aberdeen’s Niall McGinn pounced in the 77th minute to set the teams apart and take them level on points in the league. Instead of going first, Hibs ended the day in third place, Craig Brown’s men leapfrogging them thanks to a superior goal difference.
The Aberdeen manager said he wouldn’t like his team’s victory to be considered a smash and grab but given that the first half was largely even and Hibs dominated the second, the fact they escaped Leith with a victory cannot be viewed as anything but that. Yes, there were mitigating factors and while Hibs were without key players such as Gary Deegan and James McPake, the Pittodrie boss catalogued a list of seven or eight notable absentees. In such circumstances there is perhaps no shame in their counterattacking winner. But few would deny they were fortunate to escape with all three points.
“Even a point would have been a travesty,” claimed the hugely disappointed Pat Fenlon, who made it clear that this defeat stung.
In a first half in which both sides virtually nullified each other, the scoring opportunities were few and far between. Young Chris Smith came close for Aberdeen as did McGinn, while the usual suspects, Griffiths and Eoin Doyle, tested the Aberdeen resolve. It was in the second half when things sparked into life and how Griffiths did not find the net, only he and his nemesis for the day, Langfield, will know. He tried overhead kicks, long-range efforts, jinking by one or two defenders before unleashing his strike. But whatever he tried was not enough.
Aberdeen were the ones to make the breakthrough though. Disappointed with the performance and result against Celtic last week, they were delighted with this triumph. They knew that Hibs had not lost at home all season, the frailties of the last campaign behind them.
But Aberdeen are not so subservient this term either. Having made their own strides, they began the day hot on the heels of Fenlon’s men and it was clear desire and application wouldn’t be lacking in either side.
“It’s just frustrating because we played well and didn’t get anything,” said Fenlon afterwards. But what couldn’t be denied was the quality of McGinn’s finish. The delivery came in from Johnny Hayes and Alan Maybury put out a boot but only succeeded in deflecting the ball into the path of McGinn, whose touch was delightful.
“After the goal they had nothing to lose so we expected an onslaught,” said Aberdeen stalwart, Russell Anderson, who, along with his fellow centre-back Mark Reynolds and goalkeeper Langfield was described as magnificent by their manager. They got one as Hibs fired one long range effort after another in on goal. They even had claims for a penalty in the dying minutes, the crowd appealing for handball. In the melee it was hard to see whether the touch was intentional. The referee deemed it innocent, the outraged home support were not in agreement.