A late winner from Scott Allan saw a frustrated crowd eventually succumb to celebration at a sunny Easter Road on Saturday afternoon.
The ninety minutes will not live long in the memory for the 16,631 in attendance, however all that mattered to Paul Heckingbottom’s side was that their league campaign began with three points.
The groans had begun on 22 minutes after goalkeeper Marciano failed to release the ball quickly from his box. They grew as the linesman appeared to wrongly rule out Kamberi’s effort for offside on 52 minutes. But when the net bulged on 85 mintues as the game ebbed towards stalemate, sighs turned to cheers as new boy Christian Doidge teed up Scott Allan, who calmly side-footed it home from the penalty spot.
Few predicted this St Mirren side fresh from a woeful Betfred Cup campaign would put on such a strong showing at Easter Road as the curtain was raised on the Ladbrookes Premiership season.
Jim Goodwin’s side more than matched Heckingbottom’s new-look Hibernian team and were well on their way to heading home with an unexpected point before Allan broke the deadlock.
The new season always brings optimism; it was no different in the Edinburgh sun as the Hibs faithful unveiled a banner reading ‘New era – same passion’ at the start of the game. This new era looked to be stuttering as marquee-signing Doidge, who hit fourteen goals in the second half of last season south of the border, failed to sort his feet out when Kamberi’s shot was parried straight to him on sixty-eight minutes.
Doidge went on to have another chance he could only have dreamed of on Friday night as he failed to connect with Kamberi’s cross. The link-up between the likes of Allan, Kamberi and Doidge so early into their relationship on the pitch will excite Paul Heckingbottom.
New signing Josh Vela impressed on his league debut. Forgetting the handful that failed to find their man, the former Bolton man’s passing was largely impressive for the 64 minutes he played. His pinging diagonal picked out the lively Horgan on numerous occasions. Vela could often be found almost in a centre-back position, and once his scope is zeroed and free of pre-season cobwebs his passing will be integral to this new-look side.
This was anything but a one-sided affair as St Mirren, sporting their pink away strip, offered plenty on the counter-attack. They threatened in the first half through Paul McGinn, whose shot had to be well-blocked by Hibs captain Paul Hanlon. Whilst they lost their cutting edge when Tony Andreu and Ilkay Durmus left the pitch, big-man Obika had a great chance to snatch back the point as the clock edged past 90 minutes. His half-volley following Magennis’ expert delivery sailed over the top left-hand corner.
Pleasantly surprised, the St Mirren faithful were rowdy in the away end, looking to guide their side to a draw away from home – something the team largely tipped to be relegated come the end of the season would have craved on the opening day.
Indeed manager Jim Goodwin spoke of how they were all ‘extremely disappointed’ at the nature of how they went down. This being said, in keeping with compulsory early-season optimism, he noted that there were ‘a lot of positives’, especially that they ‘collectively looked hard to beat’.
But it was Allan’s late winner that stole the headlines and cued the Hibs faithful to blare out the usual song, ‘Care-free, wherever you may be, we are the famous Hibs FC’. ‘Care-free’ was perhaps the wrong term; ‘running out of ideas’, to use defender Steven Whittaker’s post-match analysis, may have been more apt.
But then ‘running out of ideas, wherever you may be, we are the famous Hibs FC’ doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.
And after all, they did find the back of the net, which was all that was required of them.
Image: Sam Bayliss