HIBERNIAN'S freefall continues.
You don't even need 11 players to beat them now. St Mirren delivered a superb result in Paisley yesterday to climb two places in the SPFL Premiership and three points clear of the play-off place with four fixtures left.
Danny Lennon's side had the quality to construct a two-goal lead and then the grit and resilience to defend it after their captain, Jim Goodwin, was red-carded just 28 minutes in.
St Mirren remain below Hibs on goal difference but these two clubs are travelling in different directions. Just over 1500 Hibs supporters made the journey west. Their morale was trampled into the dirt. One win will be enough to spare the Leith club this season but will it ever come? They have now lost five in a row.
St Mirren scored 12 seconds after the kick-off through Kenny McLean and Paul McGowan soon rattled in another. Goodwin's dismissal didn't make a difference, even though he had made an excellent start to the game. How could it against a team that doesn't score?
Hibs have now played 388 minutes of football without putting the ball in the net. The easy conclusion to reach is that Hibs don't have the stomach for this fight. In truth, they lack quality. That doesn't distinguish them among the clubs still unsure of their fate at the bottom of the table, but they also lack confidence more than the others.
Hibs' statistics are those of a team on an irreversible slide. Their manager, Terry Butcher, made a point of applauding the travelling support at full-time but those fans are sick of the dreadful mediocrity they're being forced to watch. Butcher admitted there was no point trying in trying to disguise the fact that Hibs are in trouble, in a fight for their lives.
Goodwin received a straight red card for an over-the-ball challenge on Kevin Thomson. The St Mirren player is a magnet for controversy and was asking for trouble when he threw himself into the tackle. It was reckless and Kevin Clancy was entitled to sent him off, but the extent of actual contact with Thomson was debatable. The Hibs midfielder clutched his knee and writhed theatrically but was soon up and playing on.
"We will look at it again and if there is any doubt we will appeal it," Lennon said. "There's no doubt Jim has an unfair reputation which goes before him and opposition players play up to that as well. He is distraught in there; he said there was no contact."
To lose a goal after 12 seconds was ridiculous. Hibs were opened up at the first time of asking. John McGinn swept a crossfield pass to Steven Thompson and his first tussle of the day with Michael Nelson resulted in the ball squirting into the path of McLean. Bang, and it was rifled past Ben Williams.
The St Mirren fans didn't know whether to cheer or laugh. After 14 minutes, it was 2-0. Another Hibs mistake, another act of punishment, another piece of crisp finishing and St Mirren's lead doubled. Jordan Forster was trying to dribble his way from trouble and instead immersed himself straight into it.
Goodwin dispossessed him in midfield and St Mirren worked the ball left to McLean, who slipped a deft pass through for McGowan to score. That was too much for the packed Hibs end. Their anger erupted and they hurled abuse and jabbed fingers at their poor, poor team. What did Hibs offer? Not much. Sam Stanton hit a nice shot which Chris Dilo parried away before dropping bravely to smother the rebound at Danny Haynes' feet. Stanton ought to have done better when Thomson found him in space, but his shot rose well over the bar.
By then Goodwin was off. Jeers rang in Thomson's ears for the rest of the game because the home support were convinced he'd play-acted. Lennon responded to the sending-off by pulling McGowan back into midfield in a 4-4-1.
St Mirren were dogged and disciplined in protecting their lead and Hibs didn't have the quality to unpick them - or indeed to dictate the game with any sort of authority. Owain Tudur Jones directed a header at Dilo from a corner but it was tame. Duncan Watmore and Jason Cummings had shots but they were utterly harmless. There was plenty of second-half Hibs possession but only a Cummings volley came close to yielding a goal.
"It was a fantastic performance," Lennon said of St Mirren' display. "Momentous." Every defeat now feels momentous for Hibs, too.