IT IS a quandary that Alan Stubbs must be desperate for an answer to: Just how many strikers and attacking midfielders does he need to sign before his team can create enough clear-cut chances to start winning matches with the metronomic regularity of a team with realistic title aspirations?
There has been so much made of the options he now has at his disposal but, despite that, his men are still struggling to find the zip and creativity, let alone the clinical finishing needed against teams who travel to the capital hell bent on frustrating the hosts.
Some are eventually worn down but for all that St Mirren have struggled in the early part of this term and are currently adrift of the play-off slots, they had the gameplan and the personnel needed to stifle Hibs sufficiently, while also having the pace and ability to punish them on the counter-attack.
The Paisley side came to Leith with a game plan and, to an extent, it worked. While Hibs had relished the openness of Wednesday night’s cup contest with Aberdeen, benefitting from the extra breathing space that came with that, they assumed the favourites tag again yesterday and that added pressure, allied to the stuffiness and organisation
of Ian Murray’s men, made it tough for them to carve out enough attempts at goal to truly trouble Jamie Langfield.
The visitors sacrificed a man in the middle of the park in the hope that they could use the pace and guile of their front men to hit on the counter and it worked in the 18th minute when Callum Gallagher was played through by Jim Goodwin. With the Hibs defence gaping, he turned David Gray inside out before dumping him on his backside and then unleashing a solid low strike which beat Mark Oxley.
It was the advantage St Mirren needed. “I think when you are at home and you have a team that comes and sets their stall out, it’s a huge plus for them when they score the first goal because it gives them something to hang on to,” said Stubbs. “That was the case today and from our point of view there just wasn’t enough zip in our play. The result through the week has taken a bit out of them but it’s still not an excuse. We still should have enough out on the pitch to get a result but the first goal was a big factor.”
Another huge factor was Goodwin. A man who is chastised as often as he is praised, given his often recklessly combative style, he was the calm head in the middle of the park. Streetwise and unflustered, he helped take the sting out of Hibs’ play and used his expertise to read the danger or his strength to come up with a timely little nudge.
“Jim was outstanding today and it’s always a worry with Jim,” admitted Murray. “He has that reputation that you hear it all, he’s a thug, he’s a hooligan but Jim is a seasoned professional and he’s one player in that squad that gets us all going and gets us all together. We know he’ll not give us 36 games but he might give us 25 really good ones like today.”
But there looks to be plenty life left in the 33-year-old and he is an undoubted asset when he channels his energies so effectively. He will be one of the main driving forces if
St Mirren are to build on being happy with one point at a place like Easter Road and begin upping the ante and closing in on the play-offs.
For Hibs, there was frustration that they could not find a way to penetrate the defence in an effective manner. They got a goal back three minutes before the interval when Liam Henderson played in a cross to the back post, where Gray moved in for an effort but the ball ended up back across goal and Martin Boyle headed a powerful downward header into Langfield’s net.
That could have been the lift Hibs needed but St Mirren refused to panic, adapt tactics or go chasing the game. They were happy to hold on to the point and wait for another opportunity to burst forward in the hope of hitting Hibs on the break and escaping with something more.
They had to settle for the point but were happier with it than Hibs. The home side, who could find themselves 11 points behind Rangers if the Ibrox league leaders win today, pushed until the final whistle but with all the finesse of a desperate man, battering his head off a wall time and time again and, ultimately, getting nowhere.
Hibs: Oxley, Gray, Hanlon, Fontaine. Stevenson, Bartley, McGeouch, Henderson (Carmichael 80), McGinn, Cummings, Boyle (Malonga 67).
Substitutes not used: Reguero, Stanton, McGregor, Dunsmore, Martin.
St Mirren: Langfield, Baird, Webster, Kelly, McMullan (Thompson 67), Carswell, Goodwin, Howieson, Gallagher (Morgan 89), Shankland (Mallan, 85)
Substitutes not used: Wilks, Conlan, Agnew, McGrath.
Referee: Crawford Allan.