Hibs will be delighted to have responded to their Hampden heartache with a resolute 3-1 victory against Livingston on Wednesday evening. It wasn’t quite as comfortable as the scoreline might suggest and the hosts gave a very good account of themselves despite the Hibees emerging victorious.
Bottom of the league Livi still harbour hopes of avoiding relegation and possibly even the play-off position if results go their way in the next couple of matches. They certainly gave a very good account of themselves on a lovely spring evening in West Lothian. They defended gamely, attacked with a purpose when they had their full complement and competed with better, more experienced pros in the heart of a battle with Hibernian’s disappointed players.
The suspended Scott Allan made way for the return of loanee Martin Boyle in the only change to Saturday’s semi final reverse. The on-loan Dundee player started in a right wing-back role as Hibs opted for a 3-5-2 formation once again with El Alagui and Cummings starting up front.
Hibs started brightly moving the ball around at pace, creating space and forcing Livingston on to the backfoot and when Scott Robertson pierced through the Livi defence to put them ahead, with only seven minutes on the clock, it looked like Hibs were well on their way to bouncing back.
It was an incisive yet straightforward move which saw the opening goal arrive thanks to Robbo’s sixth goal of the season. Dylan McGeouch played a superb through ball in to the path of Robertson who brilliantly guided the ball past Jamieson and in to the bottom corner of the net.
Hibs would have liked to have enjoyed their lead for a little bit longer but Livi reacted brilliantly and when former Hibee Bradley Donaldson sent a cross high in to the area, Jordon Forster misjudged his header and Myles Hippolyte smashed a stunning volley high in to the net to equalise.
Hippolyte’s technique was superb, his control was perfect and the finish was powered past Mark Oxley in the Hibs goal. Fantatstic way to get your side back on level terms and Hippolyte impressed me time and time again throughout his time on the park, especially when the game was eleven versus eleven.
A player to watch in the future, I suspect.
Adding to that it was great to see Bradley Donaldson starting for Livi, a player I’ve seen a lot of through his spell with Hibs as a youngster. He’s a solid defender who deserves his chance having suffered from some severe injuries which ultimately prevented him from making an impact at Hibs. He’s a level-headed guy who will hopefully stay injury-free, continue his progress and have a fine career.
No sooner had Livingston restored parity the Hibees had retaken the lead. A great finish from inside the area at the second attempt from young striker Jason Cummings, his eighteenth strike of the season coming after he reacted well to his first shot being blocked.
Cummings fired home from twelve yards out as he showed his striker’s instinct when latching on to the rebound and leaving Jamieson with no chance.
The quickfire exchange of goals led to a slightly quieter period of play with much of the better play coming through Dylan McGeouch who seemed to take on the Scott Allan role to great effect. He had a low drive saved himself before Hanlon and El Alagui had efforts courtesy of a couple of great McGeouch assists.
Livingston’s evening was to take a turn for the worse with Darren Cole being sent off following two bookable offences. His first was for a handball which looked to be inside the box, a free kick was awarded in that instance however Cole was to be shown his second yellow and a subsequent red when he fouled Cummings twenty-five yards from goal.
His dismissal was a blow to a Livi side who are facing a battle to stay in the division and were causing Hibs problems in various areas of the pitch as the first half progressed. Their midfield was strong and industrious, the full backs were getting in to advanced positions and delivering high crossed balls which were causing problems for the Hibs defence.
A weakness highlighted by Peter Houston post match on Saturday. The goal apart the Hibs back three dealt with them all relatively well and Mark Oxley was commanding in goal.
Livingston’s strikers are also a nuisance and having seen every team in the division season there is no chance that Livi are the worst footballing team in that league.
Hippolyte, Jordan White and Kyle Jacobs all impressing me on the night.
Two, one at the break with a man advantage many would have expected Hibs to come out and coast to victory but as is the Hibs way they failed to make such an impact.
The second half started with Mark Burchill moving Kyle Jacobs back to centre half in place of Cole opting to keep his substitutions for later in the game as they chased a result which would have seen them extend a five match unbeaten run.
They continued to be very compact and whilst Hibs were maintaining possession of the ball they were finding it hard to break Livi down. Lots of sideways passes to the frustration of the travelling support and probably to their manager, who lamented poor decision making in his post match interview.
It’s interesting to note that we’ve heard this a number of times now but what is more frustrating is that we know Hibs are capable of so much more. I am sure the players will continue to work hard on making the right choice of pass, knowing when to shoot and when to maintain possession as the play-offs come around.
The second half was almost entirely played out in Livi’s half and you could sense the relief around the ground when Dominique Malonga feinted one way then another before turning the ball home to give his side a two goal lead.
I noticed Dom was reserved in his celebrations and usually when the fans sing his name he acknowledges the crowd but there was no such interaction on this occasion.
We have a player of real quality here and although his workrate is questionable at times we need him to be firing on all cylinders come the play-offs lets hope the fans give him the backing he deserves rather than getting on his back at a crucial time.
This goes for all the players and despite a performance which often threatened to impress without actually doing so the Hibees won the three points and at this stage in the season that’s all that matters.
Of course the winning margin could have been much wider had McGeouch converted a penalty after he had been tripped, according to the referee, in the area. It looked a harsh award and perhaps justice was served when Jamieson excellently saved to his right hand side from the resulting spot kick.
Fontaine and Boyle had efforts which would have put their side of sight but the last word was left to Malonga as he notched to send the Hibees back to within a point of Rangers.
Hibernian will be happy to have gained three points, scoring three goals in the process but they’ll know that if they are to clinch promotion then they’ll need to play a lot better, making the right decisions at the right times.
One thing for sure is we love to do things the hard way but then no one ever said this was going to be easy.