Story of Aberdeen 2-0 Hibs: Sloppy defending, poor referee calls and blow struck for third
If it was a question of resolve before kick-off, that resilience was thoroughly tested when Aberdeen rushed into two-goal lead in the space of a disjointed opening 12 minutes.
Hibs had picked themselves up after the massive disappointment of last weekend’s Scottish Cup exit at the hands of derby rivals Hearts and manager Jack Ross had declared himself “confident” in his players’ ability to bounce back, incentivised by the lure of leapfrogging Celtic and moving into second place.
But Aberdeen were unlikely to stand aside when three points would elevate their own league position, and see them swap places with third-placed Hibs, with a game in hand.
There was little to comfort the Hibs manager in the ragged opening period. Rather than plotting a comeback, the more pressing concern was finding a way to stabilise things and stop their hosts dishing out a real doing.
Before the match there had been the anticipation of goals as both teams lined up with a glut of quality attacking options.
Jamie Murphy was reinstated to the Hibs starting line, offering guile and creativity on the left flank, while Martin Boyle patrolled the right. Up front they had Kevin Nisbet, looking to put his cup penalty miss behind him, and Christian Doidge.
Slack from the off
But, it was Murphy who was caught in possession of the opening goal and as the match progressed it was the defences who proved more of a talking point as one coped with everything that was thrown at them and another who took time to settle down and looked unusually rattled, given the way they have handled themselves this season.
During the last international break, Paul McGinn, Ryan Porteous, Paul Hanlon and Josh Doig were all called up to represent Scotland – at full and under-19 level. That was a reward for a start to the season that saw them pick up clean sheets and provide a solid platform on which the men in front of them could build attacks.
A major reason for the Easter Road side’s early-season superiority over the majority of teams they faced, they did not exude the same level of confidence or demonstrate the same degree of organisation that had gained them international recognition.
Steve Clarke chose not to include them in his squad for this week’s vital Euro play-off and he will have had few regrets as he watched them pushed back onto the ropes by an Aberdeen team that came out swinging.
They were soon a goal down when Murphy was blocked by Ryan Hedges and he passed to Ross McCrorie, the former Hibs target, who kept the ball moving, feeding it through to Lewis Ferguson, who then played it inside to Scott Wright. With the Hibs defence all at sea and unable to get close, he made the most of the time and space to turn and fire his shot across Ofir Marciano and into the far bottom corner.
That was in the fifth minute and where their rivals were on it, showing real intent as the burst forward, linking passes and maintaining a high tempo, Hibs were uncharacteristically hesitant, disjointed and a little meek.
Denied the time they had hoped for to settle in, they were two down within the next six minutes.
It was more incisive play from Aberdeen, but it was scrappy from HIbs.
Ryan Porteous’ long clearance hit off Ferguson and was returned with interest as Sam Cosgrove burst back upfield and back at the visitors. A player who had not netted since February 29, he finished expertly and beautifully, flicking his effort up and over Marciano with outside of his right boot.
Finding a little bit more
It was looking ominous for Hibs at that stage, as they tried to dig deep into the well of resilience.
They dredged up enough of it to get themselves back into the game, in terms of posing some questions of their own. But, unlike the Leith side, Derek McInnes’ men had better answers on the night.
The best save required of Joe Lewis came from his own defender, when Ash Taylor swung his leg at a Murphy ball that dropped into the box and instead of hoofing it away, sclaffed it in the direction of his own goal, forcing Lewis to produced a fingertip save and push it over the bar.
As the game wore on, with their own backine looking more secure, Hibs did push up and poked and probed, looking for a way through. But there was a rigid defiance in the Aberdeen defence as they used their power and physicality to squash Hibs’ advances and deny them any kind of hope.
Questionable referee calls
There was a penalty shout as Boyle was pushed in the box midway through the second half and then and there was rage when another challenge on the same player, on the edge of the box, went unpunished minutes later.
But against a hard-working and dogged Aberdeen side, with obvious designs on third place, there was no way of bouncing back from that poor, poor start.
Hibs will at least have the majority of the squad to work with during the international break as they look to regroup, gain confidence from next week’s Betfred Cup game against Dundee, and then head into their next league match, against Celtic, with the intention of regaining their early league form.
Aberdeen, meanwhile, look a have a grip of third place already, with two wins out of two over their nearest rivals for that berth.
Aberdeen: Lewis, Hoban, Taylor, Considine, McLennan (Logan 85), McCrorie, Ferguson, Kennedy (Leigh 78), Hedges, Wright, Cosgrove (Main 71). Subs: Woods, Devin, Ojo, McGinn, Hernandez, Edmondson
Hibs: Marciano, P McGinn Porteous, Hanlon Doig, Boyle, Newell (Mallan 61), Gogic, Murphy (Wright 68), Nisbet (Gullan 77), Doidge. Subs: Barnes, Gray, Hallberg, S McGinn, McGregor, Mackie
Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.