It was a bit of a grind but in the end Hibs boss Neil Lennon could describe himself as “pretty satisfied” with a performance which earned his side another three points as they bounced back from the disappointment of losing to their Championship rivals Dundee United.
The setback at Tannadice had prompted a fair measure of self-doubt among some elements of the Hibs support, questioning whether Lennon’s players have what it takes to win promotion at the third time of asking.
And that anxiety was all too evident as the Capital club made heavy weather of disposing of Dumbarton, a team still reeling from their shock Scottish Cup exit at the hands of Junior outfit Bonnyrigg Rose, now the holders first opponents when this season’s competition gets underway next month.
The loss of key midfield players John McGinn and Fraser Fyvie for lengthy periods, added to the continuing absence of James Keatings, and goalkeeper Ofir Marciano joining that growing casualty list, has undoubtedly robbed Hibs of the fluency they’d been showing of late.
Their absence has, of course, offered others an opportunity, but it would be asking a little too much for their introduction to be totally seamless, hence the slow start made in this match although Lennon’s players did get to grips with the game and, as the manager claimed, might have enjoyed a more comfortable win than that gained by the goals of Paul Hanlon and Brian Graham.
“It was a good performance in the end,” insisted Lennon although he conceded: “We started off a bit sluggish, a bit flat. We had to come to terms with the way Dumbarton had set up, we tended to leave three on one at the back when we did not need to while we were getting outnumbered in midfield.
“But once we sorted that out we were fine. We finished the first half very strong, were slow again at the start of the second but for the last half hour we were very good.”
Lennon admitted he could understand the restlessness in the stands in those early stages although Hibs could have been ahead before Hanlon met Jason Cummings’ corner to hammer home the opening goal on the stroke of half-time, Graham soothing any lingering nerves by claiming the second with 14 minutes to play.
“I would have liked to have won more comfortably,” said Lennon, “But it’s three points and another clean sheet, so I’ll take that. We didn’t flow as well as we can but once the game opened up a bit we looked better.”
It was Hibs’ ninth shut-out in their 16 league games so far and in truth the meanest defence in Britain never looked troubled even if Dumbarton enjoyed a fair amount of possession in that opening phase, Stevie Aitken’s players knocking the ball around well but to no great effect, underlined by the fact they didn’t have one shot on target in the entire 90 minutes.
Hibs, on the other hand, kept Dumbarton goalkeeper Alan Martin alert, Hanlon rising to power an Andrew Shinnie corner wide, the defender left holding his head in his hands as an indication of what a good opportunity he had scorned and then his diving header was taken at the second attempt by Martin.
Jason Cummings, making his first start in almost two months, may, understandably, not have been at his razor-sharp best but he showed he hasn’t lost that predator’s instinct, a cheeky backheel from Hanlon’s low cross at the front post well read by Martin.
“You don’t want to take that gallussness away from him,” insisted Lennon. “That’s part of his make-up, that’s why he’s got a goal every other game in his career.
“He hadn’t played for a little while and he was a bit rusty but I was pleased enough with his performance and to get 90 minutes under his belt will be of benefit to him.”
Cummings, who scored eight goals in his first six Championship matches of the season, admitted it had come as a bit of a shock to be dropped although he accepted his form had dipped and agreed Lennon was right to give others their chance, his decision vindicated by the string of victories achieved in his absence.
And, Lennon admitted, he had been delighted with the 21-year-old’s reaction to finding himself on the sidelines for the first time in his short career.
He said: “I think it hit him but he has responded well. He’s looked sharp in training. There was nothing wrong with his work-rate in the game but the ball perhaps just did not drop for him.
“He had a goal disallowed which was debatable but he’s always doing that, trying to play on the shoulder and sometimes he makes something out of nothing,
“By his own admission he was not playing well and Martin Boyle came in and did well so he has had to bide his time. No-one has a God-given right to start, you have to earn it every week.
“But Jason has a great personality, he’s a bubbly boy and not once did he sulk or bang on the door. He just got on with it, he’s got himself into decent condition.”
So desperate was Cummings to play that he shrugged off the fact he’d been sent home from training two days earlier suffering from a heavy cold but admitted he didn’t feel at his best.
He said: “I was choked up, I wasn’t really 100 per cent. I was sent home and I didn’t know if I was going to play but I thought ‘I need to play’. I’m glad I did because I enjoyed being back out there.
“I did feel a bit rusty; you need a few games in a row to get the feel back. I had a couple of chances that probably would have gone in at the start of the season that just aren’t going in now.
“Chances are not falling for me, but it is what it is, being a striker. It will come, I’m just waiting patiently.”
Those words will no doubt offer some comfort to those fans who have been fretting in recent days although Hanlon insisted: “It was all about getting back on track after last week’s result, so I’ll take the three points.
“You can’t always win playing the best football, it’s about winning ugly sometimes and it can lead you to a championship, that’s what we’re going for.”