THIS game was every bit as tight as third versus fourth in any league might be expected to be.
The trouble is that with Hibs starting to show a little bit of form of late, their fans’ expectations, so long on a short tether, were once again following a different trajectory and the majority of the 10,000-plus crowd that came along to Easter Road yesterday clearly nurtured high hopes that by full-time they would have swapped positions in the Championship table with Queen of the South.
Yet again, though, optimism mutated into disappointment over the course of 90 minutes for Alan Stubbs’ recast side, with this stalemate meaning they have now drawn their last four league matches on home soil. The Hibs manager, candid as always, refused to accept the absence of joint-top scorer Dominique Malonga on international duty with the Democratic Republic of Congo as an excuse. “We didn’t do enough in the final third really”, suggested Stubbs. “It was as if we were just waiting for something to happen rather than making it happen. One or two were waiting for someone else to do something then they would join in. Even without Malonga we had enough quality out there today, but we just haven’t done enough to win the game.”
A hugely underwhelming opening 45 minutes was sufficient to suggest that those recent signs of an upswing in fortunes for the Easter Road side still require to be taken with a heavy dose of realism. While there were some decent passing movements and sporadic bursts of energy down either flank from Matthew Kennedy and Alex Harris, their attacking threat was at best a blunt instrument. Jason Cummings and Scott Allan carried their only real prospects of a breakthrough at this stage with a trio of fizzing shots between them that Zander Clark in the Queen’s goal was unable to retain within his grasp. Frustratingly for Stubbs, on each occasion his side simply didn’t get enough men in the box to capitalise.
The visitors, while not exactly putting stand-in Hibs goalkeeper Kleton Perntreou to the sternest of tests, were compact at the back and tidy in possession – a formula almost guaranteed to exacerbate the rising sense of irritation amongst the home support. It continued in a similar vein after the interval; indeed if anything Hibs were even more lacking in inspiration and were reduced to taking hopeful, but ultimately hopeless, pot-shots from distance.
With an hour gone Stubbs wasn’t prepared to hang about any longer and quickly introduced all three substitutes. Of the trio, Jake Sinclair, Sam Stanton and Paul Heffernan, the latter was by far the most lively. Alas for the Irishman he also missed the chance of the afternoon with a howler of a finish on David Gray’s cutback, sending the ball so far skywards it looked for a moment as if it might be joining robot probe Philae on the surface of that comet.
As the minutes counted down the prospect of Queen’s sneaking a late winner loomed large but they didn’t really take the gamble, clearly well content with taking a point back to Dumfries. The feeling was shared by their enthusiastic travelling support who bellowed out their approval at the end and by player-manager Jamie Fowler.
“We didn’t come here to defend,” he insisted, “but with the players that Hibs have got I’m delighted that we restricted them to only a few chances. That’s four points from six that we’ve taken from them so far so we’re obviously happy with that and still pushing to finish best of the rest outwith the big three.”
Hibernian: Perntreou, Gray, Fontaine, Hanlon, Stevenson, Allan, Craig, Harris (Sinclair 61), Handling (Heffernan 61), Kennedy, Cummings (Stanton 69). Subs: Combe, Booth, Allan, Crane.
Queen of the South: Clark, Dowie, Durnan, Higgins, Holt, McShane, Kerr, Carmichael, Lyle (Reilly 61), Russell (Kidd 76), Baird (Dzierzawski 85) . Subs: Atkinson, Smith, Smith, Fowler.
Referee: G Salmond. Attendance: 10,069.