Thank heaven for that left boot of Jason Cummings, the king of zing’s touch of an angel. For without it Hibs would have not only Dundee United but Falkirk and Morton breathing down their necks rather than being held off at arm’s length in the race for the Championship title.
Three times in the past couple of months he’s stepped up to deliver key goals to salvage a precious point against Morton, Ayr United and now Raith Rovers, his tally for the season now standing at 16.
His latest strike stretched the club’s lead at the top of the table to seven points but it was, insisted Neil Lennon, scant consolation from a day he was looking for that advantage to be opened to nine. Instead he was presented with a shambolic first hour from his players at Stark’s Park.
The Hibs boss was livid, his patience finally snapping as he let rip, not ranting and raving but presenting his anger in a controlled, measured manner while leaving no-one in any doubt the strength of his feelings.
Lennon has, of course, made clear his unhappiness at certain points during the season in regard to his side’s performance but never in such terms as he used at Stark’s Park as he insisted his players had shown exactly why they find themselves playing in the second tier of Scottish football for a third season.
“It was a disgrace,” he stated just for starters. “I didn’t celebrate our goal because they were a disgrace and I have made that pretty clear. It was embarrassing, no, not embarrassing, it was insipid, disrespectful to the opposition and ordinary.
“Everything we had last week (against Hearts in the Scottish Cup) was missing for the first hour. We have give a goal and an hour’s start to a team that hadn’t won in 14 games.
“The last half hour was great but it was not what I wanted. It was unprofessional. We are going for the title and the reason we have not been promoted out of this league is because the players are complacent.
“They tell me they are a passing team, I do not see it. I know what a passing team is. You have to earn the right to play and we did not earn the right to play for a long, long time in the game.
“If they think they know better than me then good luck to them.”
Hibs had also been dire in the first half against Ayr prior to the cup derby at Tynecastle but Lennon refused to allow Wednesday night’s replay against Ian Cathro’s side to be used as an excuse.
He said: “We have the chance to go nine clear. I am glad we are seven, we’ve gone away from home and were unbeaten, but there are too many draws for my liking.”
The Capital club have, in fact, drawn eight of their league matches, three of them against Raith who, despite this point, remain, along with Dumbarton and Dunfermline, perilously close to the relegation play-off spot.
And that statistic was, admitted former Hearts midfielder Ryan Stevenson who had opened the scoring with his first goal for the Fife club – a superbly struck half-volley – a source of great frustration.
He said: “When you look back there is no reason why we shouldn’t be getting better results against the teams who are around us especially as we have drawn with Hibs, the best team in the league, three times this season.
“It’s something we are going to have to address. We find ourselves in a difficult position now and the only way we are going to get out of it is by sticking together. There was enough there to show we are more than good enough to match the better teams in this league and we need to get on with it.”
Stevenson insisted that Raith, with new boss John Hughes in charge for the first time, should be given credit for their performance saying: “We made sure they weren’t able to play. We were right at them.
“They are the best team in the league with the best players and we knew if we gave them a minute or a yard they could hurt us. So I don’t think they had a bad day, I think we made them have a bad day.”
Lennon, not surprisingly, adopted the opposite view. He insisted: “There was not enough quality, urgency, organisation or leadership. You can see why they have been in this division for three years.
“They won the cup, great, they can go to Inverness, Aberdeen, Dundee United, Rangers but they come to Raith who were up for it, have a new manager and wanted it more than us. It was disgraceful, I’m sick, I really am.
“It looked like we were disinterested, we didn’t want it enough. I do not know why that is.”
Adamant he is trying to change the mentality of his squad, Lennon insisted his players have shown they possess character in the way they have come back in matches although this was their fourth successive visit to Stark’s Park in which they haven’t won, two of those encounters at the tail end of last season ending in defeat.
Reckoning only Lewis Stevenson, Darren McGregor and Brian Graham mustered pass marks, he added: “I don’t want to see that ever again. I’ve defended them all season but I cannot defend that.”
Much as he doesn’t want to see such a performance again, Lennon admitted he’d be forcing himself to sit down and watch a re-run before adding: “Raith were up for it and that’s indefensible.
We have to be at it every week because teams want to beat us.
“I don’t want to give other teams encouragement although results went our way.”
For his part Hughes insisted his players, without a win since October, have set a standard for the remainder of the season saying: “The effort and commitment was there. We shaded the first half and Hibs were the better team in the second. We’ve set a benchmark and hopefully we can kick on.”