HIBS REACTION: Four-nil does not tell the story

Brian Graham smashes the ball home to give Hibs an early lead
Brian Graham smashes the ball home to give Hibs an early lead
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It may have sounded like a bit of hyperbole from a man who steered Celtic into the last 16 of the Champions League, claiming the scalp of Barcelona along the way.

But in declaring this victory over Queen of the South was “one of the best performances I have seen against any opposition as a manager at any club,” Neil Lennon was merely declaring a great satisfaction in having witnessed the best display from Hibs so far this season.

John McGinn, right, celebrates after his shot deflected off Chris Higgins to make it 2-0

John McGinn, right, celebrates after his shot deflected off Chris Higgins to make it 2-0

The four goals scored hardly began to tell the story, the Easter Road outfit totally dominating from the first minute to the last, his players, as he acknowledged, producing a performance of such power, intensity, hunger and quality of football that led Lennon to insist few teams outwith those at the very top could have lived with his side on the day.

That claim may be viewed as slightly over the top but there was no doubting that this was the day on which it all came together for the Capital outfit – just as Lennon has been predicting for the last few weeks.

Set on their way by a seventh-minute strike from Brian Graham, the only surprise was that Hibs weren’t out of sight by the interval, their two-goal cushion at that point helped by a John McGinn shot which crashed off the legs of Queens defender Chris Higgins and into goal.

Goalkeeper Lee Robinson was one reason why not, the Dumfries No.1 twice saving from Martin Boyle who also saw a lofted effort glance off the post and wide before somehow blasting a close-range shot wide from only four yards out with the goal at his mercy.

Martin Boyle finally gets his name on the scoresheet with a powerful drive

Martin Boyle finally gets his name on the scoresheet with a powerful drive

Boyle did, eventually, get his goal, Hibs’ fourth. Robinson had denied him and Graham before that goal wrapped things up, having been beaten for a third time as Hibs skipper David Gray stabbed home at the front post from a McGinn corner.

While admitting his players could comfortably have doubled the scoreline, Lennon wasn’t going to let the lack of further goals be a criticism of his players, revealing how he’d backed the mis-firing Boyle.

He said: “I told him at half-time he could sit down and feel sorry for himself or he could keep going and get himself a goal. Because of his pace and movement he was possibly the only player in the team who could have got on the end of those chances.

“But he scored a wonderful goal and capped off what was a very good day for us.”

David Grays flick at the near post beats Lee Robinson in the Queen of the South goal

David Grays flick at the near post beats Lee Robinson in the Queen of the South goal

The goals-for column, last season’s tally regarded by Lennon as somewhat paltry, has suddenly taken on a much healthier look, 13 having been scored in their last five matches but, as the manager pointed out, it is Hibs’ defensive record which has provided the platform.

Eight clean sheets in 14 league games and only seven conceded means Hibs have the meanest back-line in Britain after Tottenham Hotspur lost two in their victory over West Ham, Lennon just as pleased by the few chances offered Queens as by the goals scored.

The closest the Palmerston Park side came to beating Ofir Marciano was a Mark Millar free-kick which crashed off the post although Lennon reckoned his goalkeeper had it covered, and a slip from Paul Hanlon, following a mis-placed pass from Darren McGregor, which allowed Lyndon Dykes a clear run on goal only for him to knock the ball over the bye-line as he rounded the Israeli internationalist.

That slip from McGregor aside, Lennon insisted the no-nonsense stopper sets the tone for his team, saying: “He’s an animal defensively, hungry, quick and strong.”

For his part, McGregor said: “When new managers come in you are never sure where you stand with them so to be given the platform to go out there and play, I am delighted. It’s great to hear what he’s said, a manager of his status. The positives give you motivation but I’ve always tried to treat positives and negatives the same, right down the middle. Don’t get too high or too low.

“The priority for me is to win games. If we keep clean sheets along the way that’s an added bonus for the defence.”

The fact that Hibs have conceded just two goals in their last five matches, and one of them a highly debatable penalty at Dunfermline, has coincided with the return from a calf injury of Liam Fontaine, allowing Lennon to revert to the back three which had served his side so well at the beginning of the season when they won their first five league games.

The manager said: “For quite a while the defence and the boys in front of them have been absolutely outstanding. Playing the diamond in midfield meant we were getting a bit narrow in midfield, choking Andrew Shinnie and John McGinn so we decided to change it to give us a bit more possession.

“The thing is we are flexible but at the minute this system seems to be working quite well for us.”