Hibs salvaged a draw against a dogged Ayr United side and failed in their attempt to win five in a row in the league. A 74th minute header from Jason Cummings which snuck past Ayr keeper Greg Fleming was just enough to grab a point and cancel out Rab Crawford’s sensational opener.
Considering the odds Ayr were available for before the match, with some bookies offering 18/1, the third minute opener was quite the surprise. Lewis Stevenson gave the ball away under minimal pressure on the left, allowing Nicky Devlin to send Rab Crawford free. He still had around forty yards to go, but Liam Fontaine stood further and further off him, until a last gasp tackle just inside the box was too late and allowed the midfielder to get a shot away and past Ross Laidlaw at the far post.
That goal allowed Ayr to set the tone and sit back, with Hibs the team now requiring goals to secure the expected three points. It didn’t come quickly for Neil Lennon’s side.
Liam Fontaine had a torrid time at the back, seemingly losing the ability to defend consistently and incapable of connecting a single one of his high floating forward passes in the first 15 minutes. Ayr were by no means lucky to be ahead, but they were arguably lucky to still have a full cohort after Jamie Adams flew in two footed on Andrew Shinnie early in the first half. The midfielder got away with just a yellow card.
The first 20 minutes were terrible by Hibs’ high standards. Slack passing, a slow tempo and an Ayr side intent on making the game a scrappy affair led to growing frustration from the Hibee faithful. Even so-crowned Super John McGinn was guilty of lackadaisical play in front of the entrenched Ayr defence.
Hibs’ first shot on target came just before the half hour mark, with James Keatings’ free kick from 25 yards out, just left of centre, well parried away by Ayr stopper Greg Fleming. Like buses, a second one came just after when Martin Boyle latched on to a blocked Chris Humphrey shot. The nippy winger was unable to beat the onrushing block of Fleming. The Ayr keeper was the man keeping his team in front, neat work from Stevenson and Keatings allowed Shinnie to get a foot to a low and pacey cross, only for Fleming to again block the shot.
Then came Hibs’ best chance of the first half. On the 36th minute Fraser Fyvie sent a delicious cross in from the far side, directly onto the run of Shinnie. The attacking midfielder looked odds on to score from 8 yards, but somehow steered it over the bar. Fontaine had his own chance to equalise on the 39th minute, meeting a Keatings corner but heading the ball straight into the ground, taking all pace out of the effort and making it easy for Fleming.
It was possibly the most ineffective half of Hibs’ whole season, and this time there was no excuse unlike when Marvin Bartley was sent off undeservedly last time the sides met at Easter Road.
Neil Lennon judged the first half in a similar manner, sending on Grant Holt in place of Chris Humphrey at half-time presumably to offer a sterner and more physical presence up front.
Hibs nearly got past Fleming on the 55th minute, Fontaine’s long ball to Gray was expertly controlled. The right back powered into the box but his low cross, parried by Fleming into the path of what the Hibees expected to be an onrushing Holt or Keatings instead ended up in open space to be eventually cleared by the Ayr defence.
The score did not flatter Ayr as they were defending magnificently. The outstanding example came from Daryll Meggatt on the 58th minute when Grant Holt put James Keatings through on goal with a superb through ball from the half-way line. Keatings looked ready and primed to shoot, but Meggatt’s exquisitely timed slide tackle nicked the ball away.
Jason Cummings then came on for the carded Andrew Shinnie on the hour mark and nearly had an instant impact only to be pulled up as offside as he raced clear. Overall his introduction made little to no difference to the way Hibs were playing, still too often wayward with crosses and imprecise with passes.
Ayr keeper Fleming was having, as he did in October, the game of his life at Easter Road and would have been justifiably upset if McGregor’s snapshot had gone in after Fontaine arguably fouled him challenging for a Keatings corner. Karma played into the keepers hand though as the shot flew well over the bar.
There was, to the relief of the Hibee faithful, an equaliser. Keatings received the ball on the near side and swung a beauty of a cross towards the near post. Holt and Cummings both jumped, but it was the younger of the pair that got the final touch and put the ball into the back of the net for Cummings’ 13th league goal of the season.
Holt and Cummings would both come close before the final whistle blew, with Cummings being denied from long range by Fleming, and Holt denied on the line by Brian Gilmour.
But it was blessed relief after a sub-standard performance, likely Hibs’ worst of the season at Easter Road. But they remain at least six points ahead of Dundee United ahead of the Arab’s game against Raith Rovers later today, yet with themselves going into the Scottish Cup Edinburgh Derby against Hearts at Tynecastle next weekend, a better result would have been welcomed.
Image courtesy of Daniel