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HIBS DELIVER A SUCKER PUNCH; No contest as Pars floored by early goal.

HIBERNIAN 4 D'FERMLINE 1

JIMMY CALDERWOOD reckons it was an even contest until Hibs scored. That's indisputable.

Trouble is, Hibs scored after 73 SECONDS and there and then the contest was as one- sided as the one Manchester witnessed eight hours later.

Even when Dunfermline hit Hibs with their only counter punch of the afternoon to draw level, the SPL team were always going to knock out the team they swapped top flight places with in the summer.

On the evidence more than 11,000 fans witnessed at Easter Road, the gulf between the top of Division One and the middle of the SPL is massive.

Pars boss Calderwood believes the scoreline flattered Hibs. It didn't, but if he can't be biased, then who can?

His team play in black and white but their performance was grey and grim.

Hibs weren't exactly cutting a dash in glorious technicolour either, but they were better - much better than their visitors.

From the moment man-of-the-match Derek Collins whipped in a cross from the right which Kenny Miller dived to convert past Kris Mampaey, Alex McLeish's men were in control.

So much so, in fact, that the crowd had little to get worked up about other than to celebrate the fact that Stenhousemuir were hurting Hearts on the other side of the city.

With the players and the support failing to spark off each other, the game hit the snooze button and, sure enough, Matthais Jack fell into a deep sleep in the 32nd minute.

The German dallied too long on the edge of his own box and in trying to get the ball back to his keeper only made matters worse. Dunfermline striker David Graham was much more awake, pouncing on Jack's mistake and rounding Nick Colgan to equalise.

Rather than go on from there, however, the Fifers withdrew into their shell and invited Hibs to come at them.

Big mistake. Russell Latapy danced and jinked his way into their box on the left, bamboozled Jason Dair and sent a low cross fizzing across the six- yard line where Grant Brebner provided the finishing flourish with a deft back flick of his left boot.

The second half was even more one-sided but it took the introduction of 18-year-old midfielder Ian Murray to give the scoreline a more realistic look. The Hibs youngster replaced Stuart Lovell in 63 minutes and hit the back of the net two minutes later. The goal was a disaster for Brian Reid, whose hesitation on the 18- yard line was exploited by the excellent Miller.

His cross to Mixu Paatelainen was saved but in the scramble that followed, Murray showed composure to slot the ball into the net.

The fourth, five minutes from time, illustrated Latapy's intelligent use of the ball and highlighted again the fact that in Collins, Hibs have one very under- rated player.

The little midfielder's pass that was dinked into the path of the rampaging right-back was terrific but Collins's finish - a clinical chip over the advancing Mampaey - was pure quality.

Dunfermline's cause wasn't helped by Calderwood's use of Ian Ferguson as the spare man at the back.

The manager argued that the loss the previous week of Justin Skinner forced him to use the ex- Ranger in defence, but Dunfermline missed badly his drive and leadership qualities in the middle of the park.

In truth, Dunfermline would have needed more than Ferguson to narrow the difference in class.

They defended abysmally and their manager was in no mood to fudge the issue after the match.

Calderwood said: "I didn't think there was much in it before the first goal but we didn't give ourselves much of a chance after the first minute.

"We got a present to get back into the game but then Jason Dair dived in on Latapy and we were 2-1 down. The third one was another bad one and after that it was all about statistics. They got a fourth but I don't think we were that much worse than Hibs.

"But we had experienced players who did not do what they should be doing.

"We have the best goals-against record in the First Division but that's more down to luck than quality. We are short of defenders with pace and leadership."

Despite that, Calderwood is still looking to strengthen up front and he's clearly irritated at the length of time it is taking to clinch the permanent signing of Stevie Crawford from Hibs.

Not a little bitterly, he said: "We gave them a present today. Maybe they will be nice to us next week."

Hibs boss McLeish was understandably pleased with his side's display and their attitude right from the start. This was the team, of course, that was knocked out by Stirling Albion last year.

He said: "We thoroughly deserved our victory and when we got to 3-1 we relaxed and expressed ourselves in the latter stages.

"I had a chat with the players before the match about the attitude they had to adopt. We didn't want any prima donnas out there and we went about our business well."

Two other points: Both sets of fans observed impeccably a minute's silence before the match in memory of former Hibs player Jock Paterson and fan Alex Urquhart, who both died recently.

And fair play to referee Stuart Dougal on Saturday. At a time when whistlers are under the microscope, Dougal hardly put a foot wrong all afternoon.

Unlike Dunfermline, of course.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:McCarthy, David
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jan 31, 2000
Words:912
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