Relief as Ross marks Paisley return with win for hesitant Hibs
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