Tuesday, 22 February 2011

St Mirren 0 Hibernian 1

Hibs secured a vital three points against fellow strugglers St Mirren in a very poor match in Paisley with Francis Dickoh heading home with three minutes remaining.

The home side brought Jim Goodwin and Jure Travner in for David van Zanten and Lee Mair and lined up as 4-4-2/4-3-3 depending on the position of Paul McGowan, who began on the right of the three central midfielders but regularly moved forward to join the attack.  Travner provided the width on the left side from full-back.

Hibs again opted for a 4-1-3-2 with Ian Murray and Matt Thornhill missing and Liam Miller and Martin Scott brought in to replace them.  Victor Palsson started just in front of the back four and just behind a central midfield three, although David Wotherspoon would often drift wide right.  Derek Riordan began just off Akpo Sodje in attack and would switch between dropping deep and wide and forming a front two with Sodje.

Both teams began by hitting long balls towards their respective target men.  For St Mirren, McGowan and Craig Dargo would often stay close to Michael Higdon in the hope that one of his knock downs would come their way.  On one occasion McGowan managed to get on the end of a Higdon flick and cut the ball back with Graham Stack out of his goal but the Hibs defence scrambled the ball clear.

The best chances of the first half fell to Scott who struck the woodwork twice.  The first of these came when Wotherspoon worked some space for himself on the wing and sent a lovely cross towards the near post.  Scott’s header was a fraction away from opening the scoring with goalkeeper Paul Gallacher stranded.  Scott was one of the better players on the park and covered a lot of ground, often getting beyond the forwards, and also put in a shift defensively.  He has been the most impressive of the six new signings, providing the necessary battling qualities and energy that Hibs were sorely lacking prior to his arrival.

There was little to report in a less than eventful first half as both sides cancelled each other out in midfield and failed to hold the ball up effectively when attacking.  The match took a pattern something along the lines of: goal kick, long ball, throw in, free kick, corner, goal kick, long ball ad nauseam.

Hibs were the first side to get the ball down and play a little football and their most likely source of creativity came from Wotherspoon on the right.  St Mirren’s shape was such that they had no out-and-out left midfielder which had the consequence that the Hibs youngster was afforded time to run at St Mirren left back Travner.  He set up Riordan who shot straight at Gallacher and towards the end of the half he again sent in a decent cross from the right which was inadvertently turned towards his own goal by Marc McAusland.  Luckily for the St Mirren right-back, Paul Hanlon’s touch took the ball wide of goal rather than towards it.

As the first half drew to a close, McGowan had a shot from the edge of the penalty area which was saved comfortably by Stack and at the other end Scott hit the bar for a second time after he got on the end of a Dickoh flick on.

No changes at half time in terms of personnel or in terms of formation and the second half was a scrappy (and almost as non-eventful) as the first had been.  Yet again, Hibs were the more likely to get the ball down and pass it around but they failed to create any decent chances.  Riordan had another poor shot saved and from the resulting counter attack Craig Dargo was unlucky in his attempt to chip the goalkeeper after being sent through by McGowan.

Colin Calderwood then withdrew Miller and the ineffective Sodje and replaced them with Lewis Stevenson and Colin Nish.  Nish was a like for like swap but Stevenson took up a left sided midfield role with Scott pushed in to the centre.

Most of the chances – if you could call them that – were from set-pieces and it was no surprise that the only goal of the match came from a corner.  With three minutes remaining, Callum Booth sent an inswinger towards the back post.  Paul Hanlon rose above John Potter to head the ball across goal and Dickoh was there to knock the ball into the net.  St Mirren manager Danny Lennon will be furious with his defence considering three of them were within touching distance of Dickoh when he scored, yet each of them were caught the wrong side and didn’t put a in decent challenge between them.

Overall it was a poor match in which both teams resorted to long ball regularly.  Higdon was the most successful of the target men and Sodje struggled to hold the ball up and bring the Hibs midfield into play.  Hibs were the more capable side of getting the ball down but created little from such attacks.  It was no surprise that the only goal of the game was a result of a set-piece.

The win lifts Hibs further away from the sole relegation spot and after winning their last three matches they can begin to look up rather than down the table.

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