Stevie Mallan showed nerves of steel to convert an injury-time penalty kick as Hibernian defeated St Johnstone 1-0 in Perth on Sunday evening.
Mallan’s winner came in the final throes of a remarkable afternoon that appeared to have it all. Three goals chalked off, the woodwork struck, goal-line clearances, a last-gasp penalty kick winner and a red card all made for a dramatic 90 minutes.
St Johnstone will point to Callum Hendry’s first-half header that was chalked off for offside and that may have contributed to a red card for former Hibs captain, Liam Craig, as the Easter Road men made it six matches unbeaten in Perth.
Victory ensures Hibernian keep pace with Rangers at the top of the Scottish Premiership. The pair are only separated by goal difference.
Scott Allan returned to the starting XI for the first time since the opening weekend of the campaign as top scorer Kevin Nisbet missed out through injury.
The Easter Road men settled well and made a lively start to the game as they put their hosts under early pressure.
In only the second minute of the match Martin Boyle ran onto a Christian Doidge lay-off before smashing a low drive towards goal that Elliot Parish did well to push round his post.
From the corner kick, Allan picked out Boyle who found his shot blocked by a Saints arm. The winger immediately appealed for a spot-kick, however the referee, John Beaton, waved ‘play on’ given there was little the defender could have done to get out of the way of the point-blank effort.
At the other end, Scott Tanser’s corner kick found Hendry inside a packed penalty box only for the Saints man to fire it high and wide.
Hibs were soon back on the attack with Alex Gogic’s long ball knocked down by Doidge to Boyle only for his first-time strike to be dragged wide of goal.
A remarkable spell followed with three goals chalked off in quick succession. The first came after Boyle charged down Parish’s clearance and when the ball dropped to Daryl Horgan. The hard-working winger couldn’t quite make a clean connection but his shot was turned in by Boyle from an offside position.
Moments later Doidge hooked the ball into the net after Parish had brilliantly kept out the striker’s initial header. Again, the correct decision was made as Doidge used an arm to bring the ball under control before netting.
In between those Hibs efforts was a St Johnstone goal that could have stood. Craig Conway floated in a delivery from the right and Hendry beat Ofir Marciano to the ball to head in from close range. The offside flag went up and the effort was chalked off, however TV replays show the Saints man had been perhaps played onside by Horgan.
St Johnstone returned for the second half fired up by a sense of injustice.
Having failed to register a single shot on target during the first half, the Perth men put the visitors under sustained pressure during the opening 15 minutes of the second period.
Almost immediately following kick-off Hendry’s driven low cross was cut-out by a vital touch from Marciano to prevent Michael O’Halloran turning it in at the back post. Skipper Paul Hanlon was perfectly placed to hook the ball clear.
Moments later Jason Kerr flashed a driven cross along the face of the Hibs goal and thankfully there was no one in blue anticipating a tap in.
Saints were looking menacing and kept up the pressure. They worked the ball to the right where Danny McNamara let fly with a vicious, rising effort that was acrobatically kept out by Marciano.
There was little doubt St Johnstone were the most dominant side in the second half, although a Paul McGinn diagonal and Doidge flick on created a great chance for Boyle who was denied a certain goal by a stunning late block from Kerr.
St Johnstone were the more likely side to score at this stage and with 18 minutes remaining former Hibee Craig had a go from distance, flashing a shot just wide of goal from the edge of the box.
Yet. having weathered the storm, Hibs made a late push for a winning goal with the running of substitute Jamie Gullan causing the St Johnstone defence a lot of problems.
The visitors won a series of corner kicks and from one Gogic rose above the home defence to get his head to the ball only for it to strike the far post and be cleared off the line by Craig.
Hibs kept it alive and Gogic hooked the ball back into the middle where Hanlon was bundled over unnecessarily by Liam Gordon.
Referee Beaton pointed to the spot and Mallan was coolness personified as he slammed the ball high into the St Johnstone net to win the match in stoppage time.
The home frustration boiled over with Craig picking up a yellow card for taking his protestation too far as Hibs celebrated. It was an argument he kept going after the final whistle with referee Beaton’s patience wearing thin and a second yellow was duly issued to the former Hibs skipper.
It may not have been a vintage performance from Hibs, however there was plenty positives as the team extended their unbeaten run and maintained pace with Rangers at the top of the table.
Hibs are back in action next weekend when they host Aberdeen on Sunday.
St Johnstone: Parish, Kerr, Gordon, McCart, McNamara, Taser, Craig, McCann, Conway (Wotherspoon 64), O’Halloran (Robertson 87), Hendry (May 64). Unused subs: Sinclair, Booth, Duffy, Rooney, Olaofe, Ballantyne.
Hibernian: Marciano, McGinn, Porteous, Hanlon, Doig (Gullan 73), Boyle, Gogic, Newell (Hallberg 73), Horgan (Wright 61), Allan (Mallan 65), Doidge. Unused subs: Dabrowski, Gray, McGregor, Stevenson, Murray.
Referee: John Beaton.
Report: Richard Payne.
Image: Alan Rennie.