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VERDICT: Hibs hard luck stories continue for St Johnstone after cruel late plot twist

Craig Conway in action against Hibs earlier this season.
Craig Conway in action against Hibs earlier this season.

This is Callum Davidson’s time but the start to St Johnstone’s season has had a very Tommy Wright era feel to it.

A late win at Rugby Park in the summer sun, with David Wotherspoon and Michael O’Halloran the goalscorers, was the very definition of football déjà vu in these parts.

Not beating Aberdeen at home is par for the course in recent seasons for Saints as well.

And as for when Hibs come to town? Let’s just say this match had a horrible – and harsh – familiarity about it.

It’s now six games that the Perth men have failed to win this fixture at home.

Wright, here to analyse the match for Sky Sports, had seen this movie before. The Northern Irishman had his share of Hibs hard luck stories to curse down the years but there wasn’t as cruel a plot twist to end a game as this one.

In the second half Saints probably played their best football of the season so far, had a Callum Hendry goal wrongly chalked off and then went down to a controversial stoppage time Stevie Mallan penalty.

Thursday night’s loss to Aberdeen was easy to absorb in comparison.

By his standards Martin Boyle had been pretty quiet in the first few weeks of the season but you quickly saw that a Jack Ross tactic would be to get him running in the channel between Jamie McCart and Scott Tanser on the Hibs right.

The game was only two minutes old when Christian Doidge threaded a pass into the former Dundee winger’s path and he didn’t have to break stride before taking it on to the edge of the box and letting fly with a low right foot shot that forced an excellent near post save out Elliott Parish.

The early signs were pointing towards a much more entertaining contest than Thursday night’s game with Aberdeen – and Saints were the next to threaten.

Danny McNamara prodded a lovely ball through for O’Halloran. His cut-back was a bit aimless but Hibs only managed to half-clear it and the ball returned to the Perth full-back whose low shot was charged down.

Saints earned a couple of corners shortly after and from one of them Hendry connected with a sweet left foot volley that had the power needed to beat Ofir Marciano but not the direction.

Boyle had been given a licence to roam across the Hibs frontline and midway through the first half he popped up at the left corner of the box from where he hit a shot that sailed over Parish’s crossbar.

Incredibly, there were three disallowed goals within four minutes around the half-hour mark. Two of them were for the visitors but it was Saints who could count themselves more unfortunate.

The Hibs two were both straightforward decisions.

Boyle had closed down Parish when McCart didn’t put enough on a backpass and after the blocked clearance looped up in the air and was sent into the six yard box by Daryl Horgan, Boyle was well offside when he finished it off.

Equally clear was a Doidge handball before he bundled the ball home after Parish had magnificently saved his back post header.

The real controversy was sandwiched between these incidents.

Craig Conway landed an inswinging left foot cross from the right on to the head of Hendry. He had timed his run perfectly – to beat the offside trap and get to the ball before Marciano – but up went the assistant referee’s flag for offside as the Perth striker turned away to celebrate.

It felt like the wrong call to the naked eye and so it proved. Horgan had played Hendry on.

Saints started the second period as if word about the injustice had reached their dressing room and three times came close to taking the lead in the first four minutes after the restart.

First Hendry did well to steal possession wide on the right, from where he dribbled into the box and drilled a low cross that Marciano couldn’t hold on to. It was only good fortune for Hibs that the loose ball fell to Alex Gogic.

Jason Kerr was next to play a pass across the face of goal from a similar position. It was begging for a back post run but none came.

And then a McNamara shot was tipped over the bar by Marciano.

Hibs couldn’t get out of their half for 10 minutes but when they eventually did they came close to scoring with their first attack. Just as Boyle was pulling the trigger 10 yards out, Kerr denied him with a brilliant sliding tackle.

Just after the hour the first substitution was made by Ross, with ex-Saint Drey Wright replacing Horgan.

There was a double change for the Perth side soon after – Stevie May and Wotherspoon for Hendry and Conway.

Saints continued to push hard for a winner as the match drew to a close. Kerr – playing his best game of the season – wasn’t far off target with a back post header and the same was true of a Liam Craig 25-yarder.

There was an important intervention by Kerr in his own box when Doidge nodded the ball on to the side of his head.

Even a draw would have been unfair on Saints but the first minute of stoppage time brought even worse.

Gogic headed against the post and then when the ball came back into the danger area, Gordon was deemed to have pushed Ryan Porteous. John Beaton pointed to the spot, Mallan gave Parish no chance and Saints had been defeated late on for the second time in four days.

And to put the cherry on a foul-tasting cake, Craig was sent off after the final whistle for a post-match outburst.

Focus will now switch to the third home game in a row on Saturday. It’s St Mirren up next. Saints haven’t conceded a goal against them here in four matches. Let’s hope history keeps repeating itself for a few days longer.

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