Just back and that was a message for you Rudi. Yer finished. Done. Maybe a new job could be taking the referee to Specsavers.
With 1875 currently emulating the Bounce Judith Chalmers, on what must be the 50th holiday of his birthday year, I found myself heading over the water to the Kingdom this afternoon, on call again for my 8th “Just Back” of the campaign. Before the last one I commented that I hoped it would be lucky seven. That didn’t come to pass on a dreich afternoon in Dumfries but it also didn’t put me off looking out superstitiously for other omens ahead of today’s clash at Stark’s Park. Unfortunately, the most obvious omen was I was on Just Back again…and it was pishing down with rain again. That didn’t bode well. I mean, it’s not as if we’d end up a player short and playing with ten men again, would we? As if..
Last season, we played Rovers a remarkable 7 times that involved 4 visits across the water to sit in the Val McDermid Stand. Playoffs aside, the trips were generally enjoyable occasions. Rovers were the most accommodating away side we visited all last season, they treated us well and their manager acted with dignity some of his peers in that division could have learned from (the f@nnies that they are). It was my favourite away day and I looked forward to the occasions when they arose. Nothing could be further from the truth this time out.
Gone, the respectful and articulate Ray McKinnon and his sweaters. In, the slavering Gunt of Midlothian, Gary Locke. Gone, the likes of Toshney, Laidlaw and Hardie. In, the likes of maroon morons Smith, McHattie…and, of course, Arch Jambo Skacel. We’ve already had a range of pantomime baddies of the bloodied turd variety this season. Hammill at QotS (boooooo). Ryan Stevenson and Darren Barr at Dumbarton (double booooo). However, this is the Jambo pantomime baddie of all Jambo pantomime baddies. The nasally challenged Loser from Prague. The man they love to love even though he turned them over for a small fortune at the time they weren’t paying their charities, small businesses and other associated creditors. Whilst Mad Vlad orchestrated the masses from the front, the Czech worked them from behind. And they bent over and took it. Right up there with the likes of Walter Kidd, he was a hero made in their own image…and that alone is a sight to keep the bairns away from the fire. However, unlike the pantomime baddies of Dumbarton and Dumfries, the Arch Jambo just didn’t turn up. He was awful. Rank rotten. Anonymous. Two out of three of those adjectives could also be applied today to referee Steven Finnie. Sadly, the last one didn’t.
Hibs lined up with a couple of changes from the side that bombed out the National Fizzy Juice Cup last weekend. Change was definitely needed and we saw the much needed return of Lewis to the “regular” back four. In midfield, McGinn replaced McGeouch, Bartley came in for Shinnie to line up alongside Fyvie and Keats. Up front there was a return for Grant Holt to partner Jason.
The game was far removed from the more civilised affairs of last season. Rovers were robust in the challenge and were regularly leaving something on Hibs players in the tackle. They were clearly trying to make it physical, to break up play and stop Hibs getting any momentum. Referee Steven Finnie never had the game under control from the very off, most notably letting Rovers’ No 20 Declan McManus off with being sent off by allowing him to have a number of fouls go unpunished. As with previous weeks, chances were few and far between but centre half M’voto had a fantastic last gasp tackle to prevent Grant Holt scoring from inside the 6 yard box after good build up play and then Paul Hanlon hit the bar with a diving header from the corner that ensued. The first half was niggly, lacking in any real quality and the players who were standing out were the warriors – McGregor, Hanlon and Bartley. They were imperious in their play and Bartley, arguably the best player on the park, when the main talking point came to pass just before the 40th minute. Hibs were clearing their lines, Hibs had won a free kick after a foul by Barr. What happened next is unclear. Nobody around us knew what had happened. We all thought it was a foul against Barr…and when the red card came out for Bartley, we had no real concept as to why. Other than the referee was worse than Skacel…and that’s saying something. It appears there seems to have been a belief that Bartley retaliated to the challenge but I genuinely didn’t see it (in a non-Wenger kind of way). I heard Lennon say on the radio on the way back over the bridge that he is going to appeal it. I also saw him send Gav Gillies round to Hibs TV personnel at half time in what appeared to be an attempt to establish whether they had the footage of the incident or not. Either way, we were down to ten men for the third time in four games.
The match discipline count was only going to go from bad to worse as the referee slowly but surely lost complete control of proceedings – Holt, McManus (finally) and Thompson all being booked before the interval whistle was to go. Finnie was loudly booed from the field of play, with our manager waiting for him menacingly at the touch line. Doubtless some frank words were had.
Lennon changed the formation for the second half but made no substitutions to start with. There was a clear tactic of trying to target Holt, who was showing all his experience, nous and strength throughout proceedings.Despite being down to ten men, it often didn’t look like it. Hibs were simply not content to hold on for a draw. Callachan was booked for simulation as he clearly dived trying to seek a penalty. Thankfully, this was one decision Finnie got RIGHT.
Hibs, driven on by Keatings and Holt, created a number of opportunities in the second half with a number of excellent crosses across the front of the 6 yard box but nobody was able to convert. The Hibees were also denied what appeared to be at least one good shout out of two loud penalty claims. Again, Finnie seemed to be seeing something different to everyone else in the stadium. Grant Holt was most definitely fouled inside the 6 yard box, leaving the away end apoplectic and Neil Lennon getting a telling off.
Again today, we failed to score. Not good news. However, unlike the other weeks of late, we created more and the team had more purpose. In the second half, we were actually quite entertaining and had the crowd on the edge of their seats for much of it. Stand outs were McGregor, Hanlon, Holt and Keatings. Gray and Lewis were their normal solid selves. Fyvie had a good second half, after a slow start.
Ironically, after this honking run, we find ourselves top of the league again tonight. Football is a funny old game. Don’t be fooled though. Falkirk are the team with momentum and we cannot keep drawing games they win. We have had our slump, not been punished for it, and we need to kick on. The team today is closer to our best line up than the line ups of late. It was far from perfect but it can improve.
Rocky – not much to do. Good hands, not so great kicking.
Legend – solid outing at right back
Paul – good to have him back with Darren in the middle. Gonzo the Jambo got nothing.
Darren – what a man mountain. Fantastic.
Lewis – good to be back
Fyvie – hurt his back in the warm up, it seemed to affect his first half. Second half much better.
Super – in and out. Still more average than super.
Bartley – possibly the best on the park until the sending off. Let’s see it again before we cast judgement as to whether he was hard done by or an idiot
JC – lively
Keats – an excellent second half
Holt – showed all his experience, strength and desire especially second half. Good outing.
Subs – Boyle and Graham – both on a bit late and not much time to show
Referee – THE WORST THIS SEASON BY SOME WAY.
Crowd – good traveling support. Pity some were drinking on empty heids. Boxing matches between our own fans in the first half needed police intervention. Also the numpties moaning that they had to sit in the seat their ticket was for. How difficult can that be?
Man of the Match – good shouts for Keats, Hanlon, Holt. But for me it was Darren Man Mountain McGregor. He sometimes gives the ball away but you don’t get past him on form like this.