ANOTHER seven changes failed to produce the desired result on this occasion for Hibs. In fact, it’s difficult to imagine how things could have gone any worse had head coach Alan Stubbs simply stuck with what some interpreted as his 2nd XI from Sunday’s win over Alloa Athletic.
Morton, clad in their away strip, really were the yellow peril for Hibs’ title ambitions. Aided by a couple of questionable decisions from referee Greg Aitken, the visitors stunned Hibs – and delighted Rangers – with a hard-earned and ultimately handsome win.
The result was Hibs’ first league defeat at Easter Road since April but the consequences are potentially more serious than undoing a proud home record.
This was the game in hand which provided Hibs fans with some comfort as they surveyed the Championship table. Now it’s gone – and Stubbs’ side remain eight points behind Rangers.
Morton, for their part, jump to fifth, ahead of Queen of the South on goal difference.
The game featured one of the misses of the season from Jason Cummings, among Hibs’ returning big-hitters. The striker also hit the bar at the start of the second-half, with Hibs then denied a penalty when Aitken ignored their appeals after Anthony Stokes was eased off the rebound by Ross Forbes, scorer of Morton’s third.
Jim Duffy, once a short-lived occupant of the home dugout here, returned to haunt his former club, thanks to three well-taken goals from Thomas O’Ware, Denny Johnstone and Forbes. Declan McManus should have made it four with eight minutes left, hooking high over the bar with only Mark Oxley to beat.
Another former Easter Road manager, John Hughes, looked on ahead of Inverness’ trip to the stadium for their Scottish Cup quarter final tie. He left with plenty of succour.
Lovers of quirky statistics waited to see whether Hibs might score in the fourth minute for a third successive game, after quick-fire stars against Hearts and Alloa. Stokes tried his luck in that minute with a cute chip but failed to get the height needed to loop the ball over Derek Gaston.
The striker was not for giving up. He fired just over from long range a minute later and then, shortly afterwards, created the illusion he had opened the scoring with a header that in fact hit only the outside of the side-netting.
Lewis Stevenson, one of the seven changes from Sunday, returned to make his 300th appearance – quite an achievement for someone still only 28 years-old. He was handed the Hibs armband in recognition of the feat and was
understandably desperate to avoid any setbacks on such an occasion.
Sadly, that the night was going to be one to forget for him and his team-mates seemed unavoidable from as early as the 50th minute, when Morton scored a second through Johnstone.
Their quick-breaking tactics then saw them add a third in 63 minutes through Forbes, which was the cue for a few Hibs fans to leave.
There were early signs that Morton – the only team to earn a point from Ibrox this season – were unwilling to be obliging guests. O’Ware warmed up for later with a header Oxley, on this occasion, did well to save.
Cummings then twice came close to scoring. One of these opportunities will live on in his nightmares – the other will presumably feature in Galston’s top memories of the season. A strong Cummings header from Gray’s cross was brilliantly blocked by the keeper with the ball rounding far up the pitch to safety.
After another Gray cross Cummings skewed a header wide, with the goal gaping. He complained about undue pressure from defender Lee Kilday. Few of Cummings’ teammates seemed convinced enough to support his protests.
The home supporters’ dismay was intensified when they watched their side then concede the opening goal ten minutes before half-time.
Forbes’ corner found O’Ware once again unmarked in the box and he planted a strong header past Oxley. McManus saw a strong shot twin- fisted away by the Hibs goalkeeper shortly afterwards. Morton stretched their lead further in the second-half. McManus’ cross should have been dealt with better by Oxley, who pushed the ball into Johnstone’s path. The tall striker made no mistake. And then Forbes scored with the pick of the strikes shortly after the hour mark, rifling the ball into the corner of the net after a quick break up the left by Barr, whose cutback was sublime.
Hibs will simply be relieved that this particular game could not reach a wider audience, with even their own website prevented from broadcasting the action to overseas fans due to Uefa restrictions.
Morton fans, however, will cherish the highlights when they are shown.