Colin Nish boosted Hibs's UEFA Cup hopes with the only goal as they beat rivals for the third spot Motherwell 1-0 last night. Nish cut through the heart of the Motherwell defence before slotting home as Hibs increased the pressure at the start of the second half. The Steelmen enjoyed plenty of possession but struggled to carve out clear-cut chances even after Ian Murray's late red card. The result throws the race for Europe wide open with Hibs moving two points behind Well and Dundee United, who moved into third place with their draw at Celtic. A further blow for Motherwell may come if Gretna are forced out of business, as they could lose the nine points won against them compared to only three for United. Bob Malcolm made his Motherwell debut at right-back in place of the suspended Paul Quinn but his lack of match practice was apparent when Nish cut inside him for the goal. Hibs made four changes with Martin Canning, Nish, Filipe Morais and Merouane Zemmama coming into the side but it was the visitors who looked fresher in the opening stages.
David Clarkson and Nish had long-range shots comfortably saved at either end before Ross McCormack was off target with two powerful long-range efforts. Yves Ma-Kalambay almost gifted Well the lead when he spilled a low drive by Stephen Hughes, but the goalkeeper recovered to block the rebound from Clarkson. He was soon on hand to smother Clarkson's low cross towards Chris Porter after a mis-hit clearance by Chris Hogg. Graeme Smith then came to Motherwell's rescue with a superb double block midway through the first half. The Well keeper came out to stop Zemmama's low effort after the Moroccan had been put through by Nish's back-heel. The rebound fell to Steven Fletcher but again the shot was saved by Smith, whose spell in the limelight continued for the following few minutes when he twice parried efforts from Zemmama before smothering a low shot by Morais. Motherwell survived the flurry of pressure and had the better of the latter stages without carving out any clear chances, although Clarkson forced a decent diving save from Ma-Kalambay with a left-foot drive from 20 yards. Hibs had to make a change two minutes before the break when Ross Chisholm replaced the injured Brian Kerr.
Motherwell were denied a strong penalty claim in the opening minute of the second half when Hogg got on the wrong side of McCormack and appeared to bundle him over. But referee Willie Collum waved play on and seconds later John Rankin had a great chance at the other end, only to make a mess of his diving header. Hibs kept coming forward and Morais shot wide from a tight angle before Smith held Fletcher's well-struck effort from 30 yards. And Nish gave them the lead in the 52nd minute after a solo run through the heart of the Motherwell defence. The former Kilmarnock striker twice turned inside Malcolm before taking out Smith with a clever shimmy and stroking the ball home from 12 yards. Malcolm almost atoned moments later when he volleyed home from close range after Ma-Kalambay had spilled McCormack's second effort following a free-kick, but the offside flag was raised. Motherwell kept looking for a leveller but Porter and Clarkson both failed to make the most of openings from McCormack's corner. Nish almost grabbed a second when the dangerous Zemmama threaded the ball inside Malcolm, but Smith came out to block. Motherwell were handed a lifeline with 10 minutes left when Murray received his second yellow card for a late tackle on Hughes, after his earlier body check on McCormack. The away side pushed forward but sub Darren Smith and McCormack, twice, both skied half-chances.
Hibs: Ma-Kalambay, Hogg, Canning, Jones, Morais, Zemmama, Kerr, Murray, Rankin, Fletcher, Nish
Subs: McNeil, Benjelloun, O'Brien, Donaldson, Chisholm, McCann, Hanlon.
Motherwell: Graeme Smith, Malcolm, Craigan, Reynolds, Hammell, McGarry, Hughes, Clarkson, Fitzpatrick, Porter, McCormack
Subs: Daniels, Brian McLean, Lappin, Lasley, Darren Smith, Murray, Murphy.
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