Hibs 2-2 Dundee United: Late show lifts the gloom

Two goals down in just 35 minutes and it was looking ominous for a bunch of players who had begun the evening knowing they were now occupying second bottom place in the SPL table.

Given the stark reality of the situation facing them it would have been all too easy for Colin Calderwood's side to simply capitulate, accept their fate and the fact that their fight against relegation had become just that little bit tougher.

As things stood at that particular moment, just five points separated them from basement outfit Hamilton, but with Accies having two games in hand.

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But by the time referee Euan Norris sounded his whistle for the last time, Hibs had shown they were far from down and out, a storming fightback earning them a point few would argue they ultimately deserved.

If it did little to improve the Easter Road side's standing - although they did climb one place from tenth to ninth on goal difference - Calderwood could, at least, take some solace from the second-half performance his players produced, one which, should it be repeated consistently over the course of 90 minutes, will surely see the club's flirtation with the wrong end of the table disappear.

It will do so all the more quickly if, and it has been said time and again, Hibs can rid themselves of those self-inflicted wounds caused by gifting the opposition goals. While there's nothing like a comeback such as this to whip the crowd into a frenzy, life could be a whole lot easier, both for those playing as well as their fans, if, for a change, it was those in green and white getting the first goal.

Although Derek Riordan went close to claiming an improbable winner in the dying seconds, Dundee United goalkeeper Dusan Pernis hurling himself across goal to push away a trademark free-kick which was destined for the top corner, the Hibs boss conceded his side's shortcomings prevented him even suggesting his players had been unfortunate not to taste victory.

He said: "We are conceding too many soft goals."You don't need a Pro Licence to see what we are doing wrong," he said.

No doubt it is a point which Calderwood and his assistant Derek Adams have been hammering home on a daily basis but, as yet, it is one which seems to have missed the mark, on this occasion Sol Bamba offering up too easy possession to United's Johnny Russell, allowing him to set David Goodwillie on his way for the opening goal with only 83 seconds on the clock.

And it could have been worse, United striker Jon Daly - operating as a makeshift centre-half in the absence of the suspended Garry Kenneth - smacking a header off the bar before Lewis Stevenson, possibly the smallest player on the park, popped up to take the ball off his own line after the rebound had been directed goalwards again.

At this point Hibs looked like conceding almost every time United, inactive for almost six weeks because of the wintry weather, ventured forward while, at the other end, the home side's decision-making and delivery of the final ball was found wanting.

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Michael Hart committed another individual error for United's second, the right-back diving in on Paul Dixon only to see the United star evade his challenge to slip a low ball in for Goodwillie's cheeky flick home. As Calderwood observed: "The situation after 30-odd minutes when their second went in was a horrible experience."

Bamba, however, threw Hibs a lifeline as he nodded the ball home after Pernis could only push Riordan's free-kick on to the bar and it was one which, with only a minute remaining, they grabbed as Paul Hanlon thrust out a leg to divert Danny Galbraith's driven ball into the net.

Calderwood said: "That was terrific to see, and terrific to see the stadium get involved. They got the crowd right back on their side and they deserved the praise as they came off the pitch. It was another strong finish from us, even against Aberdeen at the weekend we were strong in the last ten minutes, able to keep going."

Having said that, Calderwood and United counterpart Peter Houston believed they each saw a turning point in the match, for the Hibs boss it was the introduction of Moroccan playmaker Merouane Zemmama at half-time following nine months out injured but, as far as the Tannadice manager was concerned, it was the dismissal of substitute Danny Swanson that proved pivotal.

Leith boy Swanson earned himself a booking within a minute of coming on, lunging in late on Galbraith and then throwing his hand out to meet a Barry Douglas cross, leaving referee Euan Norris with no option but to produce the red card, leaving United short for the final 13 minutes.

"Would we have won it with 11 on the park?" asked Houston before answering his own question in the affirmative, adding: "I have no complaint about the red card."He feels he has let the boys down and I feel so as well because for all the possession Hibs had, Dusan Pernis didn't have any saves to make."

Houston felt his side should have had the game won in those opening 45 minutes but, having seen Bamba give his side some hope, Calderwood admitted he'd thrown Zemmama on earlier than intended but was delighted to see the little midfielder's appearance lift both his team-mates and the fans, his presence an obvious worry to United.

Calderwood said: "You can see he needs more football. He has not really had a full week's training with the group. But the lift he gave the team, his touches and his influence on our play was apparent although I think the boys had an appetite anyway.

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"One thing we might have done was give Zouma better service with the ball, to give him it earlier and more often."

The appearance of Darryl Duffy for the first time in a green and white shirt was another positive for Calderwood, the striker playing for the final ten minutes or so as he made a belated debut after breaking a bone in his right foot, his squad immediately strengthened for what promises to be a testing January ahead starting with the small matter of the New Year's Day derby at Tynecastle against Hearts - the SPL's form team of the moment.