Hibs 2-2 Aberdeen: John Hughes hails 'never say die' attitude

GIVEN he's already written off his side's chances of splitting the Old Firm and claiming second placed in the SPL table, this turned out to be not a bad night's work for John Hughes and his players.

Two points dropped most certainly although at half-time you wouldn't have bet against all three disappearing, Aberdeen deservedly a couple of goals to the good and Hibs looking decidedly second best.

Fast forward 45 minutes, though, and Hibs trooped off, a battling 2-2 draw testament once again to the fighting spirit of the Easter Road side, the eighth time this season they've come from behind to deny their opponents victory, a major factor in their drive to be declared this season's third force.

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On four of those occasions Hibs have stormed back to claim victory, but each time they did so they found themselves only one goal adrift rather than two which, Hughes admitted, left them with "a mountain to climb," a task which proved just beyond even their recuperative abilities.

Even so, it wasn't for the want of trying and if Hughes and his players were, perhaps, a touch disappointed that their "never-say-die" attitude hadn't completely turned the game in their favour they did, at least, arrive back in the dressing room to discover the result had actually strengthened their grip on third place following Dundee United's surprise home defeat by Hamilton Academical.

Something of a bonus then and a welcome one at that as Hibs stretched their lead over United to four points and that with a game in hand while Dons boss Mark McGhee, as he had conceded would be the case beforehand, acknowledged his side's inability to win this one had ended their hopes of overhauling the Edinburgh outfit, his team remaining 15 points adrift.

McGhee, however, must have felt he was on his way to avenging two earlier defeats by Hibs this season, the Pittodrie manager arriving in the Capital for this clash professing himself to feeling "hard done by" having seen his team beaten 2-0 on each occasion.

It wasn't, however, to be a case of third time lucky even although it looked certain to be as Michael Paton and then one-time Hearts target Steven McLean managed to get the ball past Hibs goalkeeper Graeme Smith, only the third time in the League this season any side had managed such a feat against the Easter Road club.

For their part, Hibs could have had little complaint at finding themselves in such a predicament, guilty of another sluggish start, a shortcoming which has been all too prevalent, although Paton's opener came after the reward of a free-kick following a rather innocuous challenge by Liam Miller on Mark Kerr, the youngster latching onto Gary McDonald's knockdown from Charlie Mulgrew's set-piece.

Debatable it might have been but, as Hughes, observed, his players should have made a better fist of it, the goal coming just as Hibs appeared to have found their feet, Anthony Stokes denied a few minutes earlier having been ruled offside as he lashed home Miller's astute pass.

Paton's strike renewed Aberdeen's impetus, the Dons over-running midfield as they were denied, according to McGhee, a "blatant" penalty as Paton went down under the challenge of David Wotherspoon. McGhee claimed his player was pulled back but the angry reaction of both Wotherspoon and Hibs skipper Chris Hogg suggested they felt the Dons youngster had made a meal of the situation.

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Things went from bad to worse for Hibs as McLean stretched his neck to reach a Sone Aluko shot which was fizzing wide to redirect an unsaveable header beyond Smith, leaving one to reflect that if Hughes' players were fighting among themselves during the interval against Montrose at the weekend, despite being two goals to the good in their Scottish Cup tie, then open warfare had most probably been declared in the home dressing room.

Not a bit of it, insisted Hughes who said: "It was cool, calm and collected. It was just a matter of getting the shape, getting one or two things right."

The introduction of Merouane Zemmama offered Hibs more width on the right but, more importantly, they got the next goal, Stokes feeding off Colin Nish's flick to drill in a low shot which appeared to catch Aberdeen goalkeeper Jamie Langfield slightly unsighted.

Thereafter, as Hughes claimed, if there was going to be a winner of this particular contest then it would be the men in green and white as they began to pound the Aberdeen defence, one which was shored up as early as the 58th minute as McGhee replaced winger Aluko with central defender Jerel Ifil, a switch which was followed with the withdrawal of front runners Paton and Darren Mackie, replaced by Stuart Duff and Davide Grassi in a further attempt to hold on to the lead.

While McGhee could be accused of reaping what he had sowed, the Dons boss insisted he didn't enjoy the same firepower as was at Hughes' disposal, the Hibs boss throwing on both Abdessalam Benjelloun and Alan Gow. Even so, it looked as if the Dons might just hang on, Derek Riordan seeing two efforts blocked by a sea of red shirts, Nish sending a header straight at Langfield while a string of half-chances fell at the feet of Sol Bamba when, and no disrespect to the big defender, they might have been better falling at one of Hibs' many strikers.

As Hibs went for broke they survived a couple of scares, Paton rattling one shot off the bar and then Duff blasting high, wide and not too handsome after he'd evaded the offside trap, but Hughes' courage finally paid off four minutes from time.

Gow delivered a cross which came off the arm of Zander Diamond as he jumped with Nish for the ball, referee Craig Thomson, who had denied Hibs two similar claims earlier, finally pointing to the spot.

Fellow sub Benji stepped up to claim his fourth goal of the season and his proud boast of Hibs having never lost when he's been on the scoresheet.

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A delighted Hughes said: "All credit to the boys, they showed real character, real spirit to keep going and get us back into the match. We left ourselves with too much to do being 2-0 down.

"But you could see the belief there, the spirit that they are never going to be beaten. And what I have at my disposal, the sort of forward players I can throw on, we are always going to score goals.

"We can't give anyone two goals but take nothing away from Aberdeen, they were worthy of that, especially in the first half when hey were the better side and looked more hungry.

"We were a bit flat but once we got about them at half-time and adjusted things, the most important thing was to make sure we got the next goal and we did that."

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