Hibs took a big step towards finishing third in the Premiership this season with a crucial victory over Aberdeen, beating the visiting party 2-0.
The home side were ahead at half-time through a Martin Boyle penalty, unlucky not to be up by a few more goals after numerous chances. Boyle got his second of the afternoon after 67 minutes, putting Hibs in pole position for third and European football, mounting pressure on Dons boss Derek McInnes.
A six-pointer cliché was rolled out for this one with justification. Victory for Jack Ross’ side would move them five points clear of their visitors while Aberdeen were looking to reclaim third spot with a win.
It was a bad start for the Dons but it could have been so much worse. Greg Leigh went down injured in the box after six minutes, giving Chris Cadden the chance to score his first Hibs goal, but Joe Lewis made the first of a few big stops.
Leigh was subsequently taken off in a fair bit of pain. Ofir Marciano was to be called upon up the other end, some nice play from the Dons allowing Ross McCrorie to get a shot off on goal, but the Israeli stopper matched it.
This was Aberdeen’s only real chance of the half as Hibs had plenty, Lewis making two very good short-range stops from Boyle as McInnes’ defence was split open. But the away captain was eventually beaten after 27 minutes as Lewis Ferguson sent Jamie Murphy tumbling inside the Dons box.
Boyle stepped up and fired hard into the corner, Lewis a fraction away from reaching it as the ball burst the bottom corner. It gave Ross a deserved lead heading into the second half although he would have been hoping not to rue missed first 45 chances.
Less than 30 seconds into the second period and Lewis was called upon again, diving bravely at the feet of Christian Doidge as the Welshman unsuccessfully tried to round him. The game got stuffy after that as both looked for that crucial second goal.
Jonny Hayes had a half-chance from range after 67 minutes but straight up the other end and Boyle had a double. It quickly went from Marciano’s box to attack with Boyle, who cut open Aberdeen’s left-flank and slotted beyond Lewis.
It was game over for the Dons in all but the full-time whistle’s confirmation, not looking likely to score at all, never mind notch three in the final 20 minutes. They did rattle the bar in the final 10 minutes but that was about it, Hibs in the end doing enough for three big points in the race for third. Here are three things we learned.
The race for third
This is a huge win for Hibs. Ross played this down as not one to define their season but it’s certainly a massive step in the right direction. His side have been questioned in the big games, having lost two cup semi-finals and twice to Aberdeen already this term.
But here they came out on top and it looked pretty safe from the minute they got ahead, Marciano only really called into action once all afternoon.
Subsequently for McInnes and his team, this is another bitter blow on a difficult run they are enduring. Again third place looks like a hard ask for them again, this result putting them behind in the race, albeit with a game in hand.
What’s perhaps more worrying is the form. It’s now one win in eight for the Dons, failing to score in four of those matches, allowing Livingston in fifth to come breathing down their necks. McInnes has to find a solution quick.
Boyle will of course take the headlines after his two goals downed the Dons in this crucial affair but the resurgence of Darren McGregor at centre-back is quite something. In his fifth Premiership appearance of the season, his fourth since January 27th, he was imperious.
He won everything in the air and was handy with the ball at his feet too. His experience seems to be really calming the Hibs backline.
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