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Hibernian 1 Partick Thistle 1: Journey to Dingwall may be long road to freedom for Hibs

THAT coach journey from Edinburgh to Dingwall tomorrow will not seem quite so arduous now.

Alex Harris under pressure from Kallum Higgenbotham. Picture: SNS
Alex Harris under pressure from Kallum Higgenbotham. Picture: SNS

Until Sam Stanton's late equaliser against Partick Thistle on Saturday, it looked as if Hibernian would be journeying north to face Ross County on the back of seven successive defeats and seemingly consigned to the play-offs.

The draw doesn't change the overall picture all that dramatically - Hibs still have a bit to do to ensure they avoid finishing 11th - but the psychological lift Stanton's header gave the club after weeks of misery was hard to avoid as manager Terry Butcher held court with the sort of boisterous bonhomie last seen when he was still in charge at Inverness Caledonian Thistle.

The statistics still don't look all that clever - they haven't won in 11 games - but that one goal has at least imbued Hibs with the confidence that it perhaps it isn't beyond them to do so again. On the back of a derby performance that was bright but yielded no points, they were again purposeful and tenacious even if a string of missed chances seemed likely to again bring nothing but frustration.

Another pointless exercise after playing well would have left Hibs disconsolate, the bus to the Highlands full of anxious passengers fretting about the future. Instead, there is now hope and optimism. A second win in 17 matches would be enough to guarantee top-flight football in Leith next season. "The changing room would have been completely different had we lost the game 1-0," admitted Liam Craig, the Hibs captain. "Knowing we can go up there and win the game, and that's the play-off forgotten about, it's a great incentive.

"It was a deflated changing room last week because with the way we trained before the [Hearts] game and the performance, we thought it merited more than we got. Again this week the response from the players has been excellent and for long spells in the first half they [Thistle] could not get out of their half. I think we definitely merited a point in the end."

Craig believes the introduction of the play-offs have reinvigorated the bottom end of the Premiership but hoped he would not need to play in the inaugural final. "Have I got my holidays booked? I don't want to comment on that yet. But my wee boy was telling me 'you better win because I want to go collecting shells on the beach on holiday' so that will answer that for you."

This has been a first season to forget for Craig at Hibs, from the departure of former manager Pat Fenlon to the dreadful run of results in 2014. The midfielder admitted there would need to be a detailed inquest even if the team avoided the play-offs.

"I think we'll sit down and reflect on it because we can't keep going on like this," he said. "It's a club that should be in the higher part of the league, competing in the later stages of cup competitions. This season has not been good enough, even if we do get a result against County that will not paper over the cracks. There is a lot of hard work to be done because we don't want to have a season like this again next year."

A victory would have all but secured Thistle's place in the top division next season but Kris Doolan's early goal would prove to be not quite enough on this occasion. There is a freedom about their play that remains pleasant on the eye, with seemingly not even the prospect of an immediate return to the second tier afflicting their determination to play a free-flowing brand of football.

"There's no nervousness about us and there shouldn't be," said Doolan, who injured his shoulder in scoring his goal and had to come off. "We should be able to play with a bit of freedom. The manager puts that into us that we can go out there and express ourselves.

"If we can stay up that's the be all and end all for us. That's been the main aim. If we can escape the play-off place I'll be delighted."

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