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Dundee 3 Hibernian 1: Reality check as visitors' title credentials exposed

THE inquest was brief.

Dundee 3 Hibernian 1
Dundee 3 Hibernian 1

It need not have taken so long. Condemnation had seemed an appropriate response to a meek performance which caused Hibernian to suffer defeat by Dundee and the loss of a two-point lead over Celtic at the top of the Clydesdale Bank Premier League, the Parkhead side's cushion still able to be fluffed by a game in hand.

The excuses offered felt underwhelming too – standards slipped, that penalty was dodgy, we'll do better next time, promise – if only because they were not designed to meet the expectations now being impressed on them.

Losing to the team at the bottom of the league grated given the confident strides Hibs have taken since last season, but that was felt more acutely as their form had been afforded added value as it helped cultivate a belief that the title could wind up somewhere other than Glasgow this term. Defeat at Dens Park exposed the vulnerability of that idea.

A league without Rangers has given rise to open auditions for the role of title challengers, yet it is one which may prove too demanding to play for a full season. On Saturday, Hibs followed the lead of Motherwell and Aberdeen in showing why.

The Easter Road side have suffered defeats this season and responded well but they will not be allowed the luxury of results like this one if they are to be taken seriously as challengers. Dundee had been swept aside earlier in the campaign only to be wholly comfortable on Saturday. More than that, they were 3-0 up inside an hour.

Hibs continue to be without James McPake, an inspirational figure even in the dog days of last season, but another talisman might as well have been missing too. Leigh Griffiths earned his first senior Scotland cap in Luxembourg and it was not immediately obvious that he had returned with the rest of the national team; the Hibs striker restricted to regions of the pitch where his scoring talents held little currency. Even his late goal came from outside the penalty area.

Both Griffiths and his side have grown accustomed to such moments bolstering their points tally and their reputation, but it must now be followed by a very different response. "There's been a lot of talk, you know, 'Hibs are doing well, Hibs are doing well' and it's been nice to hear. It's now about how we react," said Alan Maybury, the Hibs defender, whose side face Aberdeen this weekend.

"We can't promise results every week and people will think we've nicked a result here and there. [Aberdeen] will be a tough one and with Rangers out of the league this year everyone feels they have a chance to be up at the top. Every week is tough."

Dundee will nod wearily at that. The club was announced dead on arrival in the top flight and it is only recently they have shown signs of life; this win their second of a three-match unbeaten run. It is also the result which offers the greatest hope – a draw last week against a Motherwell side who were wandering towards the bottom six, while the win over Hearts came at a time when a game of football was the least of the Edinburgh club's worries. Hibs were second, had won four of their last six and came armed with the league's top scorer.

It is enough to make this week's trip to face St Mirren seem like a doddle. Another win would lift them above the Paisley side and there is a belief that second bottom is no longer out of reach. "We have beaten Hibs and are confident we can pick up results home and away," said Nicky Riley, the Dundee midfielder.

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21' 1-0 Nicky Riley's corner is only cleared to Kyle Benedictus and the defender steers a delightful volley into the far corner.

47' 2-0 Matt Lockwood sends a free-kick towards the back post and as the ball is knocked across goal Steven Milne forces it over the line.

52' 3-0 Kevin McBride converts a penalty after Colin Nish is pushed by Alan Maybury.

90' 3-1 Leigh Griffiths directs a shot high into the net from the edge of the penalty area.

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