Re­lief as Ross marks Pais­ley re­turn with win for hesitant Hibs

Evening Times - - SPORT | LAST WORD - Graeme McGarry

A THIRD suc­ces­sive vic­tory and all of a sud­den things are start­ing to look rosier in the Hiber­nian gar­den.

Granted, they had to mop up large swathes of St Mir­ren pos­ses­sion last night be­fore claim­ing the three points on the back of a de­flected Chris­tian Doidge goal and a late Ste­vie Mal­lan penalty.

But, given the per­ilous state Hibs were in not so long ago, to see his new charges sit­ting com­fort­ably in the top-half of the ta­ble must be a source of re­lief to man­ager Jack Ross.

This was an eighth league game in a row with­out de­feat, al­though Ross will be aware his play­ers will need to play far bet­ter than they demon­strated here if that run is to go on.

St Mir­ren, in con­trast, will curse their in­abil­ity to take their chances. This was only a sec­ond home de­feat of the cam­paign but had their shoot­ing been more ac­cu­rate they could eas­ily have taken a point, if not bet­ter. They fi­nally scored in in­jury time through Ju­nior Mo­rias but by that point it was too lit­tle, too late.

Ross’ re­turn to his former club had been no­tably low-key. It had been the main talk­ing point in the lead-up to the match – what kind of re­cep­tion would he re­ceive from the St Mir­ren fans? – but, in re­al­ity, he slipped out of the tun­nel just be­fore kick-off al­most un­no­ticed.

A quick hand­shake with a few fa­mil­iar old faces and it was straight to busi­ness.

There was too much at stake for ei­ther party to be bur­dened by sen­ti­men­tal­ity.

In most sea­sons this would be a fix­ture in which Hibs would be well fan­cied to come out on top. St Mir­ren’s home form this sea­son, how­ever, and the lin­ger­ing ner­vous­ness of the vis­i­tors af­ter a fal­ter­ing start to the sea­son made it more of a level play­ing field.

In the re­lent­less driz­zle, both sides were hesitant in the open­ing ex­changes. When a clear-cut chance fi­nally emerged af­ter 24 min­utes af­ter Calum Wa­ters had plopped a cross on to Kyle Ma­gen­nis’ head, the mid­fielder nod­ded it over from 10 yards. He ought to have scored.

Profli­gacy in front of goal has been a prob­lem for St Mir­ren all sea­son and they would again come to re­gret that miss just four min­utes later when Doidge put Hibs in front.

Ja­son Nai­smith sent over the cross and the big striker fin­ished with the aid of a for­tu­itous de­flec­tion. A wry smile must have crossed former man­ager Paul Heck­ing­bot­tom’s face when news reached him that Doidge had plun­dered his fifth goal in three matches.

The sec­ond half fol­lowed a sim­i­lar Pais­ley pat­tern, with the home team hav­ing most of the ball un­til they got within shoot­ing range of goal at which point they could not wait to get rid of it.

Hibs were fal­ter­ing – two fur­ther book­ings soon fol­lowed – with Ross de­cid­ing to try to re­gain some at­tack­ing im­pe­tus by send­ing on Martin Boyle and then Daryl Hor­gan.

St Mir­ren con­tin­ued to knock on the door. But when Mullen thud­ded an­other shot high into the night sky and then hit the post with his next at­tempt it high­lighted the big­gest flaw in the Pais­ley side’s make-up.

Hibs made the points safe with a sec­ond goal eight min­utes from time. Gary MacKen­zie wiped out Boyle in the box and Mallen stepped up to drill the penalty past Va­clav Hladky.

There was some late anx­i­ety when Mo­rias scored the re­bound af­ter Mullen’s shot was saved but Hibs held on for the win.

Chris­tian Doidge rises high­est to make it 1-0 to Hibs

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