Hibs 3 Saints 0 - League Table Here
Team : Main, Mackay, Grainger, Morris, Garters, Caff, Millar, Davidson, Craig,
Subs: McLean, Irvine, Savo, Swankie, Deuchar, Reynolds, Durden
The first match of the double-header at Easter Rd saw both sides looking to improve on their form. Saints, for all their good performances and plaudits last weekend were still chasing that elusive first win of the season. We should have recorded it last weekend but a combination of bad luck, inspired goalkeeping and a referee so gullible he's probably part of the Eduardo appeals committee saw that we had to settle for a point. The performances have been there and while today's game was going to be a tough encounter, Hibs weren't exactly one of the Bigot Bros and it was within Saints capabilities to take something from the game. The Edinburgh side of course had their own problems - not least with how to cope with understanding Yogi or deal with the constant press coverage about signing Liam Miller, a player who was one of the top 10 in the "Where are they now" competitions for Sellik wonderkids for the last few seasons (see also Rocco Quinn, Ryan McCann etc). Added to that they'd suffered a fairly well-deserved gubbing at the hands of Billy "The Gerbil" Reid and the cracks were beginning to show in the pre-season form - whether or not we'd be able to take advantage of that remained to be seen.
The game though was probably our worst performance of the season and while the winning margin didn't reflect the play or the chances, Saints were pretty woeful at times. Even worse it wasn't down to individual errors - as a team too many players were below par and Del doesn't escape criticism either as his five man midfield tactic backfired as Sammy was left on his own up front. Defensively we looked slow and even Main looked poor at the first two goals. Hibs were no great shakes but they took their chances and looked the hungrier of the sides. We'll take the defeat and come back but Del has a lot of work to do to try and lift these players for the return match on Tuesday.
We'd had a few knocks from the Methadome game last weekend with Irvine and the Doc missing some training after picking up knocks in the closed doors game midweek - both were fine though for the journey to Easter Rd. With everyone fit and even Peaso and Rustybitz almost back in full training Del had plenty of options - just as well given there was another big game in the CIS cup on in midweek. Of course the big question pre-match was whether or not there would be a place for the out-of-favour Liam Craig, with the midfielder having been the surprise absentee from the eighteen at Paisley. Otherwise we were likely to be pretty much at full-strength although there was a bit more pressure on the front men to start producing the goods especially given their woeful return in terms of goals scored, at least compared to the midfield, this season.
Del opted for an unchanged defence and Liam and Hardie were on the flanks with Chris, Jody and Davidson in the centre of midfield supporting Sammy up front. The big loss was Morais who was the player suffering from the mystery bug hinted at by the manager in the morning papers. Sheerinho also dropped out while Savo had to be content with a place on the bench. For Hibs there was no Nish as he served a ban for a red card against Accies. There was one familiar face in their lineup with Paul Hanlon now establishing himself at left-back for Yogi's side. Despite pre- match rumours Stack managed to recover to play in goal while Stokes who made the front pages of the tabloids for one of your typical Hibee nightclub brawls also started - pity the polis hadn't just locked him up.
Saints started the game well in the sunshine (with yet another opponent deciding to water the pitch between the warmup and kick -off) and Sammy had an early run only to be adjudged to have used an arm in the build-up. Liam won our first corner but as was to become the norm for the day, the home defence easily cleared it. We looked decent in the early stages and after Davidson headed over in the fourth minute we should have taken the lead. Liam won the 5th minute corner and Jody sent an inswinger over that was punched clear.The ball was fired back into the box and found Hardie but his effort came back off the bar while Mackay's follow-up was well held by the keeper.
The shot gave us a bit more confidence with Sammy and Liam linking well a couple of minutes later for the latter to play an easy cutback across goal that Sammy was just too slow in reaching at the back post. Millar and Hardie set up Sammy next and that move ended in a good cross which Liam somehow headed over the bar when it seemed easier to score. At the other end the defence had had a quiet game so far but after Stokes beat Danny in the 12th minute, Mackay had to look sharp to clear the cross as Main again seemed stuck on his line. The home side began to get more and more into the game and for Saints it seemed that none of the passes were coming off or when they did, the players were just too slow to get forward. Riordan hit a freekick off the wall in the 15th minute as Saints began to sit back and the midfield played a tight, deep game. That meant the attacks were more and more restricted.
An 18th minute freekick for us saw Hardie and Davidson link up with a header for Sammy but he was closed down in the box. Danny tried a long throw for Davidson and Sammy but both were closed down too easily - the ball broke to Muzz who tried a volley but that went straight to the keeper. Time for the crappy afternoon to start in earnest and with their next attack Hibs pressed until Stokes was almost in Garter's pants before he turned both Garters and Caff and squeezed a low shot in from the edge of the box. Little power or height in the effort but with Main taking an age to get down to the ball it nicked past him and into the bottom corner. At least it gave the home fans a chance to sing, but as with the game last weekend, the large Saints support had every right to expect the boys to come back from this and get back in the game.
Unfortunately that didn't happen as the defence suddenly looked shaky up against the pace of Stokes and Riordan (obviously those impromptu training sessions with the nightclub bouncers do them a power of good). Millar was allowed a decent run unchallenged and when Jody did get a tackle in, the ball broke to Wotherspoon who screwed his shot just wide of goal with Main again stranded. Hibs kept pressing and Liam had to look sharp to clear a corner from a Riordan cross. Saints couldn't get forward though and with Craig reluctant to beat his man (coming inside on his left foot didn't work) and Hardie and Mackay too slow we just couldn't get past the Hibs defence.
Our best chance came in the 34th minute with a header out finding Liam but his volley soared miles over the bar. Almost immediately Hibs were back up the park and with Morris failing to close down a loose Saints clearance Riordan managed to get a shot past him that, in an almost carbon-copy of the first one again took ages to trundle in and past the flailing Main. The words kick and teeth sprang to mind.
The rest of the half was about damage limitation although we desperately tried to get back into the game. Mackay saw a decent cross headed clear and Grainger's similar effort from the other flank was headed behind by Hardie. We played too many high balls though and Sammy was getting no joy off Bambi. Hardie tried a cross that Liam headed behind and then Mackay set up Hardie whose header on found Sammy but his shot went out for a corner. That ended in the ball coming back out to Jody. A quick ball in found Hardie who set up Liam but his volley was held. It was going to be that sort of afternoon.
There were no changes to the eleven at the break but from the restart Liam and the Mad Mental One switched wings. Our luck was nowhere though and Caff picked up a very soft booking two minutes after the restart to add to our poor disciplinary record. It for worse with Mackay coming off worst after blocking a shot although he was able to continue, much to the disappointment of the already-stripped Irvine. We had a decent freekick on the left after Bamba downed Sammy but that was wasted, followed by a good run from Millar which ended in the sort of cross that you won't see until the SPL end-of-season bloopers video. Mackay and Liam linked up well in the 54th minute for a cross for Hardie but he didn't even make contact with the ball.
That was enough for Del and a double switch saw Liam and Sammy off with Savo and the Doc on. Almost immediately we should have got one back with a long throw from Mackay headed on by the Doc for the oncoming Muzz at the back post but Davidson was wrong- footed and from about two yards out only managed to put the ball wide - given his performances so far this season it was just rotten luck. The play wasn't one-sided though and a Hibs cross a minute later was headed on by Garters but only to the unmarked Stokes who managed to somehow sky his shot when it seemed easier to score. Back up the park and the Doc and Savo linked up well setting up Chris Millar on the wing. His cross into the box found Savo with his back to goal but his trademark overhead kick didn't come off with Stack holding the shot. Wotherspoon had a shot go over the bar.
The next effort came in the 63rd minute with a Caff cross headed on by Murray for the Doc but somehow he stuck his volley over the bar. Two minutes later we won a freekick after Savo was held at the edge of the box. Hardie took the kick but his curler went just wide of goal. With eighteen minutes to go though it was game over. A Hibs break saw Garters pulled into a challenge. That earned him a booking and to rub salt into the wound Stokes' freekick floated round the wall and hit the back of the net while Main stood still. After the teeth had been kicked in this was more like the follow-up to break the jaw.
Sure we tried to get back into it but the fight had gone from Saints and chances were at a premium. With 15 minutes remaining we thought we'd scored with a Millar cross in from the right finding Muzz but his header was somehow cleared off the line - although the Saints players though the ball had crossed the line. It was one of those days. A Grainger cross for Davidson was blocked and then a Mackay cross for Savo ended in a header at the keeper. There was a bit of controversy ten minutes from the end when Hanlon escaped punishment after going through Chris Millar with a late challenge.
The day was summed up though seven minutes from the end when the Doc was released. Through on goal he went wide, rounded the keeper but when it seemed simpler to play an easy square ball to the unmarked Savo to tap home the Doc went for the angled shot sending the ball into orbit. Swankie came on for Chris for the closing stages but despite a couple of runs couldn't get the four goals we needed - the closest we came was with an overhead effort from the Doc going wide and then the Doc heading a Swankie corner wide of goal. Saints finished the game with ten men after Caff went off with a head knock and if that wasn't enough Deuchar went down with an ankle injury late on.
A pretty sickening performance really. We lacked conviction in midfield or in the final third of the park and there's no doubt that Del got the tactics wrong with only one striker. We need to get back to the basics and stop treating the opposition with kid gloves. MoM for me was Dave Mackay but to be honest he was the best of a poor bunch with nobody really putting in a performance above average. For all his fans, Liam failed to impress and we badly missed the creativity and versatility of Morais on the wings.
At least there's a cup game to take our minds off the league - time for some revenge?
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