Grant Holt won few, if any, new friends among the Queen of the South support on Saturday, his rumbustious style riling the Palmerston Park faithful on more than a few occasions.
The veteran striker conducted a running battle throughout the 90 minutes – not only with the Dumfries’ outfit’s defenders but referee Steven McLean and, at one point, even his own team-mate Jason Cummings, Holt furious that the youngster had robbed him of a goalscoring opportunity.
But, as far as the 35-year-old is concerned, the more stick he gets from opposition fans the happier he is, the flak a back-handed acknowledgement that he is, in fact, doing his job.
And it was Holt who emerged with the smile on his face, a narrow 1-0 win at a notoriously difficult venue against a side with just one defeat in their previous seven matches resulting in Neil Lennon’s players opening up an eight-point lead on their Championship title rivals Dundee United.
Holt made maximum use of his strength and experience as Hibs ground out a successive 1-0 away win in the league and, he insisted, no-one should expect him to adopt a different approach any time soon.
“Fans giving me stick?” he asked. “They can do that all they want. To me, it’s a sign I’m performing well.
“I’m enjoying myself, the team are playing well and we are grinding out results. Look at it, we went over to Dumbarton where teams on a good run have gone and been beaten but we went and won 1-0. Then we go to Palmerston Park to face a team on fire, one which had lost just one in seven, a good side which set out to try to stop us doing what we are doing.
“But I thought we moved the ball well and created a few chances. Their goalkeeper had a couple of good saves – one from me – and eventually we ground out that win.
“I said four of five weeks ago we would never stop and you can see we have a team and a group of players who want to win. You could see that at the end of the game, everyone straight over giving each other high fives.
“We’ve a good squad, boys prepared to work hard and you can see how close-knit we are. I think that’s why we are doing what we are doing.”
A fifth-successive victory came courtesy of a move straight from the training ground at East Mains, the Queens defence spotting John McGinn’s perfectly-timed run from deep to meet James Keatings’ corner too late, the midfielder taking a first-time shot which took a deflection to beat goalkeeper Lee Robinson.
Holt said: “We’d been working all week on set-plays and it came off for us – that’s always good to see.
“We might only have won 1-0, but the last few weeks we’ve had shots cleared off the line, good saves made by goalkeepers.
“We do everything we need to win. We have a target and that’s to win the league. At this moment, we need to keep pushing the work-rate. We are a team that doesn’t want to be beaten and we are a team that on our day can beat anyone.”
That burning desire was all too evident as Holt reacted angrily to Cummings nicking in front of him to raise his boot to McGinn’s cross, the club’s top scorer succeeding only in taking the ball off his fellow striker’s head and, as far as he was concerned, denying him a genuine chance to beat Robinson midway through the first half.
Holt left the 21-year-old in no doubt as to his feelings but the tiff was soon forgotten.
The former Norwich City and Nottingham Forest hitman said: “Jason is Jason. He can score goals from anywhere and we all know that.
“Sometimes he will try things that are not on, but two minutes later he’ll do exactly the same thing and he’ll score.
“That’s football. Obviously, I want to score goals but Jason also wants to score goals. We’re delighted to have him and to have kept him. If you have that man on the pitch you always fancy yourselves for a goal and the good thing is he can score from anywhere.”
While Lennon surprised some by starting with wingers Chris Humphrey and Martin Boyle on the bench, opting for the narrower diamond shape in midfield, Holt believes it’s his manager’s ability to change formations from game-to-game which keeps opposition bosses guessing.
He said: “You look at the strength in depth we have when he can leave Martin and Chris out of his starting side. But the good thing for us is that we have played 4-2-3-1, we have played wing-backs, the diamond against Queens.
“If we don’t know how we are going to play week-to-week then no-one else will be able to tell.”
January has undoubtedly been a good month for Lennon and his players. Hibs entered the new year neck-and-neck with United but began to stretch away as they demolished the Tannadice side at the start of the month with what Lennon described as their best performance since he succeeded Alan Stubbs as manager last summer. Since then, Ray McKinnon’s players have struggled, what was a 14-game unbeaten run replaced by a six-match winless streak including a 6-2 mauling by Ross County in the Scottish Cup.
But, while Hibs are obviously in a healthy position, Holt mirrors Lennon’s note of caution, insisting there is still a long way to go with nothing being taken for granted.
It is, nevertheless, that time of the season when fans anxiously scan the results of their rivals, the news that United had again dropped points having been held by Dunfermline at East End Park, an added reason for the travelling support to enjoy the 80-mile journey from Dumfries back to the Capital.
Holt, however, insisted: “We’re not looking over shoulders. We aren’t bothered about how other teams are doing, only ourselves. We’ll simply worry about what we do. We know if we keep playing to the level we can, keep working as hard as we are then we’ll be there or thereabouts.”
The adage of “one game at a time” extends to the prospect of a Scottish Cup derby against Hearts, a quick-fire return to Tynecastle for the holders following their 8-1 thrashing of East Super League champions Bonnyrigg Rose.
As far as Holt and his team-mates are concerned, the only focus is on this weekend’s home match against Ayr United, not what lies in wait seven days later. He insisted: “We know we have a cup game against Hearts coming up and when it does arrive we can go and enjoy it because our main aim is promotion.
“We have nothing else on our minds.”