FITFUL, fragile and ultimately feeble, Hibernian’s woes in losing their Championship opener at Dumbarton were manifold.
It might be early days in this campaign but with two defeats from their first three competitive encounters, there is much for Alan Stubbs to ponder. Yesterday he was left to lament that two setpieces brought his team’s downfall – the second a sweetly-flighted free-kick from Willie Gibson.
Yet, Stubbs did not attempt to deflect from the other deficiencies in his team, rattling them off like a shopping list.
“The decision-making, taking care with the first choice, not making your mind up quickly enough, not being sharp enough and, the most important thing, putting the ball in the back of the net,” was all that was wrong with his team yesterday.
Moreover, the Hibs manager refuses to consider the “farces” of recent weeks relating to Rangers’ pursuit of transfer-request-lodging Scott Allan as an “excuse” for a sobering reverse at the hands of one of only two part-time clubs in the second tier.
Dumbarton would have been forgiven for experiencing teething troubles themselves considering that, following Ian Murray’s move to St Mirren, they were under the management of Stevie Aitken in league business for the first time.
Allan started yesterday for the first time this season and his commitment could not be questioned. If anything, at times he seemed to be trying too hard, as he drove at packed defences, daintily beating one or two men only to then run into further traffic on thwarted solo missions to turn the game in favour of the visitors. However, it remained out of their reach because a silly foul given away by Liam Fontaine in a needless area led to Gibson driving over a low centre that foxed the Hibs defence but not Gregor Buchanan, who stuck out a toe to divert it into the net from close-range.
Hibs seemed to have overcome that setback when Malonga raced through on goal following a Fontaine clearance in the 14th minute. That hoof sent the ball looping over the home backline and it brought them punishment when the striker smartly controlled the ball on his chest and arrowed it high past Mark Brown.
Yet, Hibs never truly got to grips with the hustling and harrying of Dumbarton, a hard but fair approach that resulted in Gibson being given all sorts of grief by the travelling supporters.
But the burly midfielder delivered the perfect riposte when he side-footed a 22-yard free-kick past the unconvincing Mark Oxley ten minutes into the second period.
“I set myself targets and I got one assist and a goal so it went very well,” said the player who followed his manager from Stranraer in the summer. “I didn’t say anything to the Hibs fans and I haven’t really had any dealings with them before. But there were a couple of clashes with Scott Allan. He’s a player you can’t give any time to. I was all over him like a rash and they didn’t like that.”
Stubbs, meanwhile, did not fancy any rash judgments about the state of Hibs after 90 minutes football in a Championship where they are expected to vie with Rangers. Last season, four defeats in their first six league games derailed their automatic promotion bid but the Hibs manager cautioned: “We are talking about one game, guys. We want to start better [than last season] and we wanted a positive result today. We just need to dust ourselves down and go again next week.
“The players are under no illusions about what I expect.”
Hibs supporters, deep down, now often expect the worst and yesterday they were not disappointed.
Dumbarton: Brown; Taggart, Buchanan, Graham, Docherty; Gibson, Routledge, Gallagher, Cawley (Kirkpatrick 85); Craig (Lindsay 78), Fleming (Smith 85). Subs not used: Ewings, McCallum, Waters, Miller.
Hibs: Oxley; Gray, Hanlon, Fontaine, Stevenson; Bartley; Allan, Martin (McGinn 57), Fyvie; Malonga (Boyle 84), Cummings. Subs not used: Reguero, Stanton, Carmichael, Harris, Dunsmore.
Referee: Don Robertson.