IT HAS taken Hibs a while to adapt to life in the Championship, longer than anyone at Easter Road would have wanted. So on the back of big games – and strong performances –against Hearts and then Premiership side Dundee United, in the League Cup, some had questioned whether they could adjust their mindset sufficiently for a trip to Cowdenbeath.
Cowdenbeath 1-2 Hibernian
Scorers: Cowdenbeath - Robertson (63); Hibernian - Hanlon (25), Cummings (41)
The task was hampered by hostile weather conditions that left the playing surface looking like marshland surrounded only by tarmac and puddles. But with manager Alan Stubbs confident that his team have turned a corner, there was evidence to support that view, as the players started the game focused on getting ahead, controlling the first half and outplaying their hosts, before digging deep to produce some dogged defence and hang on for the win.
It extends their unbeaten run to six games in the league and protects the recent move up the standings, preventing the likes of Hearts, Rangers and Queen of the South stretching any further ahead of them.
“We got the two goals in the first half so we knew they would come out and maybe change the formation a bit and it was a case of just getting the job done and getting the three points,” said Scott Allan, who has been a key contributor in Hibs’ recent upturn in fortunes.
The midfielder was a narking presence on the park, constantly demanding more from his colleagues and putting in a first-half display that no-one in the Cowdenbeath ranks was able to live with.
It was his free-kick which led to the opener. He flighted the ball in, and while Liam Fontaine looked the likely target, the delivery drifted over his head and Paul Hanlon was able to latch onto it and find the net from close range.
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Hibs were rattled a few minutes later when Mark Oxley landed awkwardly after he rose to pluck the ball from the air as Kudas Oyenuga jumped to challenge. The Englishman looked jittery and uncomfortable for the remainder of the opening 45 minutes and eventually succumbed to back spasms and was replaced by teenager Kleton Perntreou at the break.
That was one of the few negatives for the travelling team, who endured only the occasional difficulty in the first half, usually courtesy of some direct running from the likes of Oyenuga. The home side’s inability to channel that positivity on a more regular basis infuriated their manager Jimmy Nicholl, who was angered further by the loss of the second goal, just four minutes from the interval.
It arrived courtesy of young Jason Cummings, when he pounced on a wayward clearance by Nat Wedderburn, who had just blocked David Gray’s cross. The Hibs striker zipped his sixth goal of the season beyond Robbie Thomson in the Cowdenbeath goal.
As that stage Hibs were fully in control, setting the tempo. Even without Dylan McGeoch, who was missing from the midfield after his manager erred on the side of caution after a scan revealed some damage to the on-loan player’s ankle, they pulled the strings across the middle of the park.
But having been subjected to a half-time rollicking from Nicholl, the Fifers emerged swiftly for the second half and produced a more switched on performance in the second half. They applied the pressure and while Hibs wobbled at times, they only conceded one goal.
It came in the 63rd minute when Lewis Milne delivered a diagonal ball in to the back post where Jon Robertson simply drifted off the only defender near him, Lewis Stevenson, and rose to head the ball back across Perntreou’s goal and into the net.
It gave them something to chase and they gave Hibs a tough time for the remainder of the match but Hibs showed the character that has often been missing this term and held on.
“I have been here before and I knew what to expect,” said Allan. “Early in the season we went to places like this and didn’t get what we deserved or what we expected we would get, so to get all three points here, especially on the back of the form we have been in when we maybe did not pick up the three points, was really good.”
It has been a tough process of adjustment, but with three victories in the past six league matches, Hibs’ players and management believe they have found a way to regroup after their calamitous fall from Premiership grace.
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