A late Paul Hanlon winner sealed a home victory for Hibernian against Hamilton Academical in what turned out to be an exciting fixture at Easter Road. The game was important for both sides, as Hamilton looked to climb out of the relegation zone, whilst Hibernian strove to secure a top six spot, having only won two of their last six league games.
Leading into the game, Hamilton manager Brian Rice had courageously spoken of his gambling addiction, and his desire for the Scottish FA to help him overcome this. His comments, whilst troubling for football, a sport mired in its damaging relationship with betting and its many problems, should be applauded for their honesty and should hopefully set an example for others to follow.
Hibs made three changes to the side that drew 2-2 against Dundee United in their last fixture, and the inclusion of Stephane Omeonga among the match day squad following his return from a successful loan move to Genoa was an exciting prospect for the home fans.
Hibernian manager Jack Ross opted to play three central defenders at the back, looking to outmaneuver his opposite number in midfield, but a toothless first half performance meant that Hibs were lucky to only be one goal down at half time. The early warning signs were there for the home side when Scott McCann found space down the Hibernian left flank in the third minute, and managed to flash an enticing ball right across the face of Ofir Marciano’s goal, only for the cross to be met by nobody.
Hamilton took a deserved lead in the eighteenth minute when right back Alex Gogic rose highest at the back post to nod in from a wonderfully whipped in corner. Hamilton’s domination of the half continued, as Hibs appeared unable to put more than a few passes together in the opposition half, with slow, lateral and predictable passes being the hallmark of their play.
Boos rang out around the ground as the half time whistle went, and it was unsurprising to see Ross change things up for the home side at the start of the second half. Omeonga and Joe Newell came on as Hibernian reverted to a back four, allowing them to attack with more width. Daryl Horgan also came on to replace the wasteful and spineless Scott Allan, and his influence for the next forty minutes was clear for all to see.
On the 64th minute, Martin Boyle turned his man and fired low and hard to see his strike hit the upright, but it ricocheted up for Christian Doidge to bundle into the net. Easter Road, having been flat and tepid for most of the game before this, suddenly sparked into life and as Omeonga and Newell helped to control the game from deep, one could feel a winning goal coming for the home side, as Brian Rice’s men completely disintegrated.
However, Mickel Miller arguably should have won a penalty for Hamilton with fifteen minutes to go, as with a weaving spin he appeared to kick the ball into the outstretched arm of David Gray. This would prove to be costly for the away team, as ten minutes later, Boyle’s dinked ball in from the right hand side was met by a firm header from centre back Paul Hanlon, who ran off to celebrate what was surely to be the winner. Just moments earlier Horgan had missed the easiest chance of the game to give Hibs the lead, but Hamilton keeper Fon Williams made a superb save.
The game was characterised by two very different halves, with Hamilton perhaps having the right to feel a little aggrieved to go home with nothing to show for it. Martin Boyle was undoubtedly the man of the match, as his creativity and decisiveness was the key ingredient for an impressive Hibernian comeback.
Image: Sam Barrett