Dubious penalty bags three points for nervy Hibs

HIBS 1 Steven Fletcher (2) (pen)


A STEVEN Fletcher penalty after two minutes was enough to give Hibs victory, maintaining their unbeaten start to the season and consigning Inverness Caledonian Thistle to a fifth successive defeat.

The Easter Road side had last week's villain of the plot, goalkeeper Yves Ma-Kalambay who blundered twice against Aberdeen, to thank for their win, when the Belgian Under-21 star stretched his right boot to divert a Marius Niculae penalty over his bar.

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Hibs, who had the strange sight of out-of-favour goalkeeper Zibi Malkowski sitting on the Inverness Caley bench after completing a season long loan deal with the Highland club, got off to the perfect start with a goal after just two minutes courtesy of a highly dubious penalty.

Steven Fletcher and former Hibs star Stuart McCaffrey were both caught on their heels as David Murphy's ball in from the left fell between them before bouncing onto the Caley defender's hand.

There was no intent on McCaffrey's part, but referee Eddie Smith had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Fletcher stepped up to fire home his fourth goal of the season as he sent Michael Fraser the wrong way.

Even so, it was an untidy start from Hibs, who conceded a rash of early corner kicks as Caley, led by new boss Craig Brewster, overcame the shock of losing that controversial goal.

And they got the reward of enjoying much of the possession. But again it was a harsh penalty decision by referee Smith as Brewster used all his experience to roll over the outstretched leg of Hibs skipper Rob Jones.

Niculae, however, was left holding his head in disgust as his powerfully struck shot ricocheted off the right boot of Ma-Kalambay and over the bar.

Hibs, though, finished the half the stronger, Fletcher testing Fraser with a drive which the goalkeeper did well to beat away.

John Collins' side desperately needed a second goal and it almost came seconds after the restart as Merouane Zemmama embarked on a dazzling run but, from a tight angle, his parting shot screamed across goal and wide.

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Inverness almost cancelled out that narrow lead when a Barry Wilson cross sped betweeen Brewster and Don Cowie before Brian Kerr went close to doubling Hibs' lead with a low shot which just scraped past the far post.

The second-half dissolved into a war of attrition: Hibs fighting for that second goal and Caley, pointless at the foot of the SPL table, desperate for an equaliser. But even so, neither goalkeeper found himself under undue pressure as the tension among the home support began to rise minute-by-minute.

And their nerves weren't helped as Brewster was allowed to stride forward before unleashing a shot which struck the outstretched boot of substitute Dennis Wyness to wrong-foot Ma-Kalambay, only to drop agonisingly wide.

Hibs: Ma-Kalambay, Gathuessi, Hogg, Jones, Murphy, Zemmama (Shiels 57) Kerr, Beuzelin, Stevenson (O'Brien 71), Benjelloun (Morais 46), Fletcher. Subs not used: McNeil, Donaldson, Joneleit, Lynch.

Inverness Caledonian Thistle: Fraser, Tokely, McCaffrey (McGuire 53), Munro, McBain, Wilson (Rankin 85), Black, Duncan, Niculae (Wyness 75), Cowie, Brewster. Subs not used: Malkowski, McAllister, McDonald, Vigurs.

Referee: Eddie Smith.

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