Hibernian produced a thoroughly entertaining, professional performance when they really needed it most as they defeated relegation threatened Alloa by four goals to one.
The strike pairing of Jason Cummings and Dominique Malonga claimed the goals as the Hibees ran out convincing winners taking advantage of Rangers failure to beat to Falkirk.
Hibs now head to the Falkirk Stadium on Saturday knowing a win will guarantee them second place and a couple less games if they are to succeed in winning promotion. A lot of football is still to be played before that can be the case but Alan Stubbs will certainly take a lot of heart from such a comprehensive display before the final game of the regular league season.
As soon as the first whistle blew Hibernian were really up for this game, they never gave their opponents time on the ball and were confident in possession. The drive and determination mirrored the resilience of Stubbs and his backroom staff in previous weeks. They have doggedly stood by their players infering that whilst not playing too badly they knew a lot more was to come.
The management team will certainly a lot more vocal from the touchline on Saturday and it was good to see such a hands on approach from them, encouraging the forward line to press from the front, the strikers working harder than ever and considering some much more reserved performances of late it was great to see that willingness come to the fore.
As the forwards pushed up so too did the midfield. Captain Liam Craig was recalled in place of Fraser Fyvie and Scott Allan returned from suspension to replace Dylan McGeouch lining up alongside Scott Robertson in a three man midfield. They were bright and bubbly with a veracity that would have shocked everyone in the Wasp’s starting eleven.
The pressure on the Alloa rearguard was mounting and it was no surprise when the first goal came for the home side the fact it took half an hour to arrive was probably the only concern for Stubbs and co in an opening period which seen Craig, Malonga, Cummings and Jordon Forster all come close before Martin Boyle capped his birthday off in style by putting the Hibees one goal to the good.
Boyle used his pace to take an Allan pass in his stride and burst in to the area before giving Alloa goalkeeper Gibson little chance with a shot that was guided in to the opposite corner of his net. A good finish from Boyle, who is hoping to impress Hibernian, as he looks to extend his stay when his loan deal runs out in the summer.
Boyle was playing in the hole on Saturday with more of a free role rather than out wide and with his pace, the strike prowess of Cummings and the footballing brain of Malonga the three forwards linked up well to create space and several opportunities thanks to their good movement.
Much has been made of Hibernian’s profligacy in front of goal and they will have been delighted to get a second goal soon after Boyle’s well taken opener.
Craig will claim it as a fantastic strike but I’d be more inclined to say it was an attempted wicked cross which ended in the top corner of the Gibson’s net. Craig received a pass on the angle to the left of the bar and his intended first time cross arrowed straight in to the goal to give the Hibees a two goal cushion going in to the break.
It was a first half which was intriguingly exciting as well as being strong and commanding when required.
The opposition didn’t offer much going forward as Hibs pinned them back for large swathes of the opening exchanges but what the defence had to do they dealt with comfortably.
The effort was 100%, the football was aesthetically pleasing as well as controlled and the support enjoyed what was turning out to be a fantastic spectacle.
If Hibs needed a wake up call then Hibee-supporting Liam Buchanan gave them it as he twisted and turned in the box before Oxley managed to pick up his loose touch. The striker was given too much time in the area and it was a nervy moment or two especially considering the second period was only seconds old.
Craig then came close to adding to his personal tally for the day as he thundered a strike off the bottom of the post with keeper well beaten. He was 25 yards out having advanced from midfield and he let fly with a wicked effort that rebounded to safety off the frame of the goal.
Club captain Craig had a superb game in the engine room and you could see he was truly playing for the badge. Yes he has a contract to win and potential suitors to impress but when given his opportunity in the last few weeks he’s given everything he has for the team. Away at Dumbarton and in this fixture he has impressed no end and perhaps deserves to keep his place in the starting eleven next week.
He wants to put right the wrongs of last season and in doing so he has stepped up his performance when called upon.
He will undoubtedly be frustrated at the lack of playing time recently but when required he’s done everything he can to help his teammates out. He was strong and direct providing a formidable partnership with Robertson and in doing so giving a platform to Allan to go and produce in advanced areas.
Hibs soon settled down as the second half wore on and were once again well on the front foot.
Cummings and Boyle forcing ‘keeper Gibson in to good stops from the edge of the area.
Cummings and Malonga combined as the former claimed the third goal of the day with a simple tap in following good play by Allan and Malonga.
Congolese forward Malonga ran on to a brilliant Scott Allan pass in behind the right full back and squared across the six yard box for his strike partner to claim his seventeenth goal of the season.
It’s been a very productive season in front of goal for the former Hutchie youth player and he will be hoping to reach the twenty goal mark as his side enter the play-offs. A raw talent with a lot to learn but he has a wonderful eye for goal and with the correct coaching, added maturity and a willingness to learn he will only continue to improve.
Soon after Cummings had put his side three ahead the lead was cut to two again as Flannigan bundled the ball past Oxley in the Hibs goal.
It was a very slack piece of defending from a Hibs team who until then had been mostly flamboyant yet extremely resolute.
Their intricate passing play has been a highlight of this season in the Championship but all too often their achilles heel of switching off in defensive situations has overshadowed the good points.
A cross from way out on the left touchline sailed over the head of Fontaine and as it hit off Flanningan’s thigh the ball bounced in to the net. The centre half should have dealt with the cross, which was no more than a hopeful centred ball but as with previous goals in games gone past a centre back (Fontaine) misjudged his jump and Alloa had reduced the deficit.
There were a few groans around the ground as the supporters are well aware that if Hibs are to gain promotion then these situations will need to be dealt with a lot better, they can’t afford to give away cheap easy goals.
The reaction was brilliant though and rather than let panic set in they went about extending their lead again and Boyle came close to getting his second when a shot destined for the top corner was tipped over the bar.
When the fourth goal arrived it was delightfully knocked home by Malonga who claimed his second goal in a matter of days to put the tie to bed. Scott Allan stopped and tricked Alloa’s right back before sending a ball to the back past for Forster who rose high and knocked the ball down for Malonga to tap in.
A wonderfully executed goal which was pleasing on the eye despite it appearing to be so simple.
There were to be no more scares as Hibs seen out the final twenty minutes and their job was done as they look to finish second in the league.