Hibs boss: Team-mates have got to help out Cummings

Jason Cummings reacts after missing a chance at Palmerston Park, but too often he is expected to score.
Jason Cummings reacts after missing a chance at Palmerston Park, but too often he is expected to score.
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Only seven games in and already it has become a familiar refrain, Hibs boss Neil Lennon bemoaning his side’s inability to turn chances created into goals.

On an almost weekly basis, Lennon has had cause to question just why that is happening, a lack of goals last season – just 59 in 36 matches – quickly identified by the new manager as a major factor in the club’s promotion bid faltering.

In an attempt to remedy that deficiency, veteran striker Grant Holt and then Brian Graham were brought in to add a physicality, presence and aerial threat to a lightweight forward line, the demand being from Lennon that Hibs get the ball into the opposition penalty area more quickly and more often.

It was a move which appeared vindicated in that 4-0 demolition of Morton in which four different players scored with headers but, other than the comfortable but predictable win over Highland League side Turriff United in the Irn-Bru Cup, goals have since once again proved elusive.

Only two have been claimed in the following three games, one of them from the penalty spot. Both were scored by Jason Cummings, who remains way out in front in the goals race with eight to his name, his closest team-mates in those stakes able to boast just one each.

Like most strikers, the 21-year-old misses his fair share of openings and he did so again as Hibs failed to find the net for the first time in the Championship, a first-half header directed straight at Queen of the South goalkeeper Lee Robinson and later unable to get enough contact on a John McGinn corner to score from a couple of yards out.

As costly as those moments might have been, Lennon questioned just what others are bringing to the party in that regard at the moment, saying: “Jason is a good goalscorer but when he is not scoring he does not bring much else to the team at the moment. He needs to do better. We are dominating games, we are creating chances and the majority of them seem to fall to Jason. We need to look at some of the others and ask ‘where are you, why are they all falling for him’? We can’t keep relying on Jason.”

Although handicapped by the dismissal of Lewis Stevenson, sent off after picking up a second yellow card just ten minutes after the interval, Hibs didn’t fall apart as they had done seven days previously when Marvin Bartley’s red card left them short-handed against Ayr United.

With the wind which drove squalls of rain the length of Palmerston Park behind them in that second half, they gave as good as they got although, as would be expected from a side unbeaten in the league this far, Queens had moments of their own with Hibs goalkeeper Ofir Marciano pulling off a late instinctive save from Dale Hilson to prevent the Dumfries club going four points clear at the top.

“It wasn’t easy,” admitted Marciano. “It was a struggle but, as a footballer, you have to adapt to any conditions. It shouldn’t affect your performance. Here in the United Kingdom it’s something you have to expect.”

A wind-assisted effort from skipper David Gray had to be tipped over by Queens goalkeeper Lee Robinson, who then rose acrobatically to push a dipping John McGinn shot up and over the bar. But it was a failure to capitalise on the numerous corners his side forced – 12 in all – that also irked Lennon who said: “I do not know how many we had in the second half that we should have scored from or made more of.

“We do work on set-plays, believe it or not. So I need to find a remedy to put teams away.”

Having said that, Lennon confessed to being reasonably happy with a point although he was less pleased with the decision by referee Steven McLean to hand Stevenson a second booking for impeding Hilson.

Lennon said: “He hasn’t pushed the boy. He’s just put his hand out and was going down anyway. I watched Celtic last week and [Erik] Sviatchenko did exactly the same thing and there was no red card, no yellow card, no foul so I do not understand the thinking behind it.

“I also thought we had a clear penalty when David Gray was brought down by Chris Higgins’ lunge in the box after he’d nicked the ball past him.

“There were some aspects of the game I was not happy about in terms of our attacking play but in the main I have to be happy, a clean sheet and a point away from home.”

Queens, thrashed 5-0 by Rangers in midweek as they crashed out of the Betfred Cup, were ultimately just as pleased with a point although former Hearts defender Jamie Hamill admitted they were disappointed not to have won against ten men.

The victim of a first-half block which earned Stevenson his initial yellow card, Hamill admitted he had a certain amount of sympathy following his subsequent ordering off, saying: “I’ve been on the wrong end of those throughout my career. The ref has made his decision and you just have to get on with it.

“The conditions were a bit of a nightmare, but it’s one of those ones where you just 
take the point and move on. It was a bit disappointing not to get the win after they went down to ten men, but Hibs fought really well and put us under pressure with corners. We had a few half-chances and the point was a good one and we are still top of the league.”

Although the outcome of this game didn’t change the landscape at the top of the table, it did have an impact further down with victories for Falkirk and Raith Rovers closing them to within three points of Hibs, touted as favourites to runaway with a league now shorn of Hearts and Rangers.

But, insisted former Jambos defender Hamill, it’s not going to be as straightforward as that. He said: “It’s going to be like that all season. I think there will be teams at the bottom of the league who are capable of going on runs of three, four or five without losing.”