JUST as at Hampden a week before, the opening goal was coming long before it actually arrived. Just as in Glasgow, it was Hibs who threatened time and time again, but unlike that Scottish Cup semi-final, there was no sucker punch. It was the capital side who finally made the pressure and possession count, getting the opener just after the half hour mark.
Scorers: Hibernian - Boyle 31; Craig 42; Cummings 60; Malonga 70; Alloa Athletic - Flannigan 63
With Scott Allan pulling strings, they added another three goals and it gave them a valuable three points, allowing them to leapfrog Rangers and move into second place with just one match of the regular campaign remaining.
As the final whistle sounded at Easter Road, the mood was one of optimism. As things stood, Rangers were losing at home to Falkirk and, given the way Hibs had spent the afternoon bolstering the goal difference, only a Rangers win against Hearts and a Hibs defeat away to Peter Houston’s men on the final day could, realistically, shift Alan Stubbs’ team from the runners’-up spot and deny them the perceived advantage of one fewer do-or-die ties in the play-off process. But as the crowds emptied, the stadium announcer relayed the news that Rangers had snatched a late equaliser.
It means Hibs still control their own fate but, with the games kicking off simultaneously, to be sure of staying ahead, the Leith side will have to do something they have not managed so far this season and get the better of Falkirk.
But they will enter that match fuelled, not only with a desire for revenge after their cup disappointment but buoyed by the way they have responded in the two games since. Three goals against Livingston midweek, at home yesterday they added another four against another side scrapping for survival. The writing was on the wall as early as the third minute when Liam Craig’s attempt was blocked. Within the next minute Dominique Malonga had two headed efforts but couldn’t do enough with either chance to give his side the early lead.
Even when Hibs were stalled by last-ditch defending, when Michael Doyle slid in to clear Jason Cummings’ 17th-minute low strike which had beaten John Gibson in the away goal, the drive and options were still there to convince that Hibs would eventually find their way through.
Two minutes later they were foiled again as bodies were put on the line, both Mark Docherty and Ben Gordon storming out to suffocate Martin Boyle’s shot in the 19th minute. There were more let-offs as Jordon Forster headed down for Malonga and Stevenson played the striker in soon after but he couldn’t capitalise. Alloa couldn’t hold them off forever, though and with 31 minutes gone they eventually caved.
Allan slid the ball forward to Martin Boyle who burst into the box and eye to eye with the keeper, his finish was calmly taken and clinical.
The scoreline doubled just before half-time as Liam Craig sent in a shot which looked suspiciously like a cross but, regardless the intent, the end result was a bulging of the net and a convincing half-time lead. The same player was denied a second just after the interval, his sweet connection coming back off the post and both Cummings and Boyle forced Gibson’s intervention before Allan played in Malonga, who squared the ball across the box for Cummings to score his 19th goal of the season.
Hibs’ frailties at cross balls, which became the hot topic of conversation in the aftermath of the Hampden head-to-head, was again an issue as they allowed Alloa to pull one back. But while Docherty’s cross into the box beat Liam Fontaine and gifted Iain Flannigan the opportunity to get a mark on the scoresheet, it was never likely to be the catalyst for a fightback. The home team, who went on to add a fourth, courtesy of Malonga in the 70th minute, were far too dominant. It made for an unpalatable afternoon for Alloa Athletic who are still hoping to do enough to avoid dropping into League One or, at the very least, steer clear of the automatic relegation slot. That battle rages on into the final round of fixtures after a victory for Livingston saw Danny Lennon’s men slip to the foot of the table, level on points with the West Lothian side and only one point behind Cowdenbeath, who provide the opposition next weekend.
Hibernian: Oxley. Forster, Hanlon. Fontaine, Allan (Handling 77), Boyle, Craig, Robertson (Martin 87), Stevenson, Cummings (Stanton 65), Malonga. Subs not used: Cerny, El Alagui, Dunsmore, Dja Djedje.
Alloa: Gibson, Doyle, Gordon, Benedictus, Docherty, Ferguson, (Rutherford 38), Holmes, McCord (Chopra 83), Flannigan, Cawley, Buchanan (Layne 73). Subs not used: Couser, Spence, Tiffoney, Hetherington.
Referee: J McKendrick. Attendance: 8,328