Clockwatch On Toon Loan Stars
Mehdi Abeid (St Johnstone) and Paul Dummett (St Mirren) both completed 90 minutes with their respective sides, but both ended on the losing side. ROSS COUNTY 1 ST JOHNSONE 0
Ross County stretched their unbeaten run to seven games with a hard fought victory over St Johnstone at the Global Energy Stadium.
Ivan Sproule scored the only goal of the game in the 11th minute with a superb strike from the edge of the 18-yard box.
Saints dominated for long spells after the break but they found man-of-the match Mark Brown in outstanding form.
Saints started on the front foot and Mehdi Abeid tested Brown with a low drive in the seventh minute but the County keeper made a comfortable save.
But it was County who took the lead four minutes later when Michael Kovacevic and Sam Morrow linked and when the ball broke to Sproule he curled the ball into the far corner of the net for the opener - his fourth goal in as many starts.
It was an open game and Saints looked dangerous going forward and were far from out of it.
Steven Maclean looked as if he was sure to grab an equaliser in the 16th minute when he beat his marker and fired a shot towards the far corner and it took a brilliant one-handed save from Brown to deflect it behind for a corner.
Abeid flashed another shot over as Saints kept the pressure on.
Then Liam Craig cut inside Kovacevic on the left hand side of the box but his shot was parried by Brown at the near post.
There was little in the way of goalmouth incidents before the break with play getting bogged down in the middle of the park.
The visitors made a promising start to the second half and it took a timely intervention from Grant Munro to stop Rowan Vine in his tracks after the Saints forward played a one-two with Abeid.
It was non-stop pressure on the County goal and Brown did well to save with his legs from Craig in a crowded goalmouth in the 55th minute.
The County goal got a reprieve four minutes later when they broke up the left and after Paul Lawson and Rocco Quinn linked-up Sproule cut inside, but his shot was well saved by Allan Mannus.
In another breakaway move in the 64th minute Sproule sent a dangerous ball into the Saints box but it was just too high for Morrow who had the goal in his sights.
Richard Brittain had the chance to make an impact against his future employers with a free kick in the 77th minute, but his effort flew a yard wide of Mannus' right-hand post.
Then Lawson let rip with one of his long-range attempts which flashed over the crossbar.
Craig fired a shot wide of target in the third minute of injury time but County held out for a hard-earned three points.ST MIRREN 0 HIBS 1
Leigh Griffiths scored the only goal of the game as he continued his own fine run for Hibernian against St Mirren.
Hibs have now struck five times in their three wins over the Paisley men this season and Griffiths has scored them all.
The on-loan Wolves man is the Buddies' chief tormentor having single-handedly now robbed them of nine Clydesdale Bank Premier League points.
He struck twice in both of the Leith side's 2-1 victories over Danny Lennon's team in August and November and added a fifth today - his 17th in all this term - with a 72nd-minute penalty to end a four-match unbeaten run for the Scottish Communities League Cup finalists.
However, he was fortunate to be handed the opportunity to haunt the hosts at St Mirren Park once again, with referee Willie Collum's decision to penalise Jim Goodwin for a challenge on on-loan Barnsley winger Matt Done exceptionally generous.
If Griffiths enjoys playing against St Mirren, then so must his manager Pat Fenlon. The Irish boss had watched a side that had risen to second place in the SPL slip south to fifth on the back of a mere two wins in their 11 matches preceding today's action.
It was, therefore, a much-needed boost for the Edinburgh side but the result did take the shine off what should have been a special day for Buddies defender David van Zanten, who made his 300th appearance for the Paisley outfit as he replaced David Barron in the starting line-up.
Fenlon, meanwhile, responded to Monday night's 3-1 defeat to St Johnstone by dropping Eoin Doyle and Alan Maybury, opting instead to swap them - along with the suspended Gary Deegan - for Jorge Claros, Paul Cairney and Tom Taiwo.
An eventless first 15 minutes was only interrupted by a near-miss for Griffiths as he nodded wide from Scott Robertson's lofted pass into the box.
At the other end, Hibs' Lewis Stevenson collected the afternoon's first caution as he dragged down the on-rushing Paul Dummett, just before the left-back made his way into dangerous territory outside the Hibs area.
Dummett's fellow Newcastle loan-recruit Conor Newton, however, gave his team cause for alarm when he failed to find goalkeeper Craig Samson with a back pass. Instead, the ball fell for Griffiths who laid it back for Taiwo but a combination of Marc McAusland and Samson diverted his shot clear.
Griffiths was involved again on 23 minutes as he evaded challenges from Dummett and Saints skipper Goodwin before smashing a fierce drive off Samson's left-hand post.
There was a nervousness to Saints any time they were asked to play out from the back and Hibs were increasingly invited to step up and pressure their jittery opponents by a series of slack passes and heavy touches.
Being so highly-strung nearly cost the home side when Samson sent a clearance needlessly into touch and from a quick throw, Claros fired wide from 20 yards after 30 minutes.
St Mirren, though, did look marginally more composed going forward and were unfortunate not to strike first when Newton found his fellow Geordie creeping in at the back post, only for Dummett to nod wide of the opposite upright.
Esmael Goncalves, the on-loan Rio Ave striker, has enjoyed a sensational start to his time in Paisley having netted four goals in his first three games.
For the first 43 minutes against the Easter Road men, his involvement had been far less noteworthy. That was until he collected a long ball from McAusland on half-way, drove 50 yards and beyond two desperately-chasing Hibs defenders before only narrowly failing to beat Ben Williams in the visitors' goal with a well-struck near-post drive.
Hibs were quick out the traps in the second half, conjuring their next opening just two minutes after the break as Done found Taiwo with a clipped cross into the box. He put his header wide and perhaps should have left it for team-mate Cairney running into a better scoring position at the back post.
However, that was a rare highlight in a game that was quickly losing what little quality it had first shown. But with 18 minutes left, referee Willie Collum was tricked by a quality bit of play-acting.
Taiwo sent a cross into the St Mirren box but as Done and Goodwin went to challenge for the centre, the former hit the deck under little or no contact.
A stunned Goodwin could only stand and watch as Collum awarded the spot-kick which Griffiths calmly slotted down the middle to wrap up another enjoyable afternoon against the hapless Buddies.
16th February# Team Pl W D L F A Pts +/-
1 Celtic 26 18 4 4 61 20 58 41 2 Motherwell 25 11 7 7 43 34 40 9 3 Inverness CT 26 9 11 6 50 44 38 6 4 Hibernian 27 10 7 10 34 34 37 0 5 Kilmarnock 27 9 9 9 41 35 36 6 6 St Johnstone 26 9 9 8 32 32 36 0 7 Aberdeen 27 9 9 9 32 34 36 -2 8 Ross County 26 8 11 7 32 34 35 -2 9 Dundee United 26 8 9 9 42 48 33 -6 10 Hearts 26 7 9 10 25 34 30 -9 11 St Mirren 26 7 8 11 33 44 29 -11 12 Dundee 26 3 5 18 14 46 14 -32
Source: Newcastle United Mad
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