Saturday, 17 September 2011

Dunfermline 2 Hibernian 2

Dunfermline continued their poor defensive record at home this season but managed to come from two goals behind to salvage a point. It was a case of poor defending, as opposed to devastating attacking play, which brought about the four goals in this match.



Dunfermline made one change to the side that lost 3-2 away to Kilmarnock last week, replacing the injured Craig Easton with youth academy product Ryan Thomson. For the first time this season, Jim McIntyre chose to go with 4-1-4-1 at home – his preferred formation away from home – abandoning his usual 4-4-2.

Colin Calderwood welcomed former-Hearts assistant Billy Brown to his dugout for the first time and stuck with the 4-4-2 used in recent weeks. Callum Booth returned at left-back in place of the injured Ian Murray and Leigh Griffiths was given his first start at the expense of Junior Agogo.

The only difference in terms of shape was to move Ivan Sproule over to the left and Martin Scott to the right. With only one natural winger, this gave the Hibernian midfield a lopsided shape similar to that used by Neil Lennon’s Celtic.

The initial strategies of the sides were in stark contrast to one another. Whereas the home side looked to build from the back and work the ball through midfield, where they had a man advantage, Hibernian looked to hit the forwards quickly with long balls.

With the pace of Griffiths and Sproule up against the slow back four of Dunfermline, a better strategy would surely have been to retain possession, tempt their opponents out and then exploit the space in behind. However, when Hibernian’s play did eventually settle and they attempted to play the ball from the back themselves, they looked short of options and would eventually revert back to long, direct passes.

Hibernian’s left-hand side

Readers of this blog will be aware that Hibernian have been particularly vulnerable down their left side this season and today was no different. The Dunfermline manager obviously identified this as a potential weakness but rather than double up on the off-form Booth, his strategy was to instruct Danny Graham to drift into central areas, both with and without the ball, luring Booth out of position and using Jason Thomson on the overlap.

Even though none of the Dunfermline goals came directly from this side, they created a number of chances from this area that should have led to goals. To mention just two, Jason Thomson hit the side netting midway through the first half when he should have cut the ball back for a tap-in and Graham should have taken a shot at goal rather than cut it back, when he found himself in-behind Booth.

Again, I do not wish to single out Booth, he wasn’t helped much by Sproule - who failed to track back on a few occasions - but it was another poor performance from the young left-back.

Graham drifting into the centre of the pitch was a key feature of Dunfermline’s attacking play, which overloaded the centre of the pitch to the home side’s advantage. He weaved in and out of the Hibernian midfield consistently which should have earned him the man-of-the-match award – strangely, it was awarded to Ryan Thomson, who played well but was nowhere near the best player on the pitch.

Hibernian took the lead late-on in an even first half – both sides had their spells of possession and dominance – when Sproule finished off a quick move after a Richie Towell throw-in. The goal was very well taken but was indicative of the poor defending Dunfermline have displayed this season.

Second half

Hibernian emerged from the break in a 4-3-3 formation with Scott now in central midfield, rather than tucked in on the right side, and Griffiths moving over to the right of an attacking trident.

The switch appeared to suit the away side as they now matched Dunfermline man-for-man in the centre of the pitch and, further, it led to Garry O’Connor and Griffiths combining for the first time in the match.

The pair linked up minutes after the restart to force Paul Gallacher into a smart save and they combined once more to give Hibernian a two-goal lead after fifty-one minutes. Griffiths flicked a long punt from Graham Stack on to O’Connor and the former-Birmingham striker was afforded too much space to turn and unleash a deflected strike towards goal.

Hibernian’s two-goal advantage lasted all of fourteen seconds, however, as Graham was again allowed to drift inside, collect the ball and drive towards goal. His through ball was collected by Ryan Thomson, after Paul Hanlon lamely allowed the ball to simply bounce off him, and he knocked the ball past the advancing Stack.


Calderwood’s substitutions

After a brief feeling of comfort, the match was now Hibernian’s to throw away.

This was not helped by Calderwood’s strange choice of substitutions on the hour mark. It was not so much the players that were withdrawn but the players that were introduced and the resultant switch back to a 4-4-2 that was their downfall. O’Connor, possibly due to a knock sustained when challenged by Gallacher, and Griffiths, who is short of match-fitness, were taken off and replaced by Agogo and Akpo Sodje.

From then on Hibernian, again, found themselves a man short in the centre of the pitch and, as well as this, were now impotent in attack. Alex Keddie and Andy Dowie dealt far more comfortably with the two stocky strikers than they had with Griffiths and O’Connor.

Thus, it was no surprise when Dunfermline equalised through a Paul Hanlon own goal. Joe Cardle cut in from the left and saw his shot saved by Stack, but the ball fell to Jason Thomson in the box and his cross/miscued shot was knocked into his own net by the hapless defender.

Dunfermline continued to pile on the pressure but were unable to find a winner.

Conclusion

Today was a case of previous trends continuing to occur, for both sides.

The left side of Hibernian continues to be an issue, as does their manager’s apparent lack of a coherent strategy. His move to a 4-3-3 at the beginning of the second half looked to have won the game for his side but the introduction of Sodje and Agogo and subsequent move back to a 4-4-2 contributed to their capitulation.

Dunfermline have now conceded nine goals in four home matches, which goes a long way to explaining why their only victories have come away from home. Nonetheless, McIntyre deserves some credit for the way his side have applied themselves at the other end of the pitch. Two goals today takes their total goals at home to seven and, furthermore, their industrious midfield allows Cardle and Graham to join in attacks. On this form the pair will cause problems for most SPL defences they face.

However, as McIntyre himself has pointed out, he cannot expect his forwards to score four goals every encounter in order to win matches.

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