Hibs reaction: Players must learn from ‘harsh lesson’

Darren McGregors trip on Accies midfielder Greg Docherty handed the visitors a penalty that was duly converted and they never looked back. Pic: SNS
Darren McGregors trip on Accies midfielder Greg Docherty handed the visitors a penalty that was duly converted and they never looked back. Pic: SNS
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It was the result many of us saw coming.

Yes, Hibs had enjoyed a highly impressive start to the season, cruising their way into the quarter-finals of the Betfred Cup, winning their opening two Premiership games and scoring a barrowload of goals into the bargain.

History, however, points to the Easter Road club being at its most vulnerable when everything appears to be coming up roses. Time after time down the years the Capital outfit have stumbled following a headline-grabbing victory such as they had enjoyed seven days earlier.

Hibs boss Neil Lennon was not impressed

Hibs boss Neil Lennon was not impressed

Head coach Neil Lennon had insisted in the build-up to the visit of Hamilton that it was his job to ensure it didn’t happen this time round, his players well warned that despite the praise which had come their way in recent weeks they were far from being a side which could count on winning any game.

On paper, Hamilton looked a far easier proposition than either Partick Thistle or Rangers, Martin Canning’s team salvaging their top-flight status only in a play-off with Dundee United but, since consigning Hibs to the Championship three years ago, Accies have proved season on season that they aren’t going to surrender their place in the Premiership without an almighty fight.

“If I was an outsider looking in,” conceded midfielder Darian MacKinnon, “I would say Hamilton are the favourites to go down. That’s up to us to prove you wrong every year.”

And it was that attitude which ultimately proved to be the difference on the day, Hibs a pale shadow of the team which had taken the game in Govan by the scruff of the neck and should, in Lennon’s estimation, have given Rangers an even bloodier nose.

As the life seemed to drain out of Lennon’s players, Hamilton grew both in confidence and stature as they faced Hibs for the first time since that fateful day in May, 2014, the general opinion being the Edinburgh club have returned from that shattering experience in a far better place.

There’s little doubt that is the case but, as Lennon stressed in the days before this rematch, every game has to be approached in exactly the same manner, the bottom line being that if you are not going to win then you don’t lose.

Hibs, unfortunately, were unable to do even that, a dreadful second half following an insipid opening 45 minutes in which, other than a long-range shot from Danny Swanson which goalkeeper Gary Woods pushed round the post, they offered little threat. Ofir Marciano kept them level at the interval, rising acrobatically to turn away a rising effort from Ali Crawford.

The half-time talks from Lennon and Accies boss Martin Canning apparently had been much along the same lines but to totally contrasting effect.

“I thought there was a flatness about us, there was no zip,” said Lennon, “So I told them at half-time we needed some more urgency, but I got exactly the opposite response.”

Canning, on the other hand, delivered a simple message. He said: “I told them to have a bit more belief, that they could go and win the game. It was probably the most complete performance since I have been manager. I was really happy with our togetherness and work-rate.”

The former Hibs defender’s words clearly struck home as Darren McGregor’s needless trip on Greg Docherty gave a penalty which was converted by Rakish Bingham before Paul Hanlon appeared to be caught in two minds as to how to deal with a high through ball, his hesitation leading to him prodding it into the path of Louis Longridge. The Accies substitute, who had hammered a shot off the bar only minutes earlier, could hardly believe his good luck as he slotted a shot beyond the helpless Marciano, to clinch the points with 21 minutes remaining.

Lennon had made just one change to the side which had beaten Rangers, match-winner Vykintas Slivka replaced by the more attack-minded Danny Swanson but, in truth, Hibs descended into a disjointed unit, Accies midfielders Docherty and Crawford picking pockets – and there were plenty of them – to keep their team on the front foot.

Any threat, and there was little of it, was snuffed out by a well-organised back four, their team-mates dropping back to help out and so restrict Hibs to all but a handful of opportunities to throw the ball in from the wide areas.

Hibs’ much vaunted midfield struggled to get any grip on the match, MacKinnon revealing: “I told Greg [Docherty] before the game that if he got the better of John McGinn a lot of people would take notice of him.

“The gaffer had a go at Greg at half-time, telling him he was playing within himself. McGinn is an international player and while I would not say Greg ran over the top of him – that would be disrespectful – he got the better of him on the day.”

Having taken eight games to reach six points last season, Hamilton, after thumping Dundee 3-0 the previous week, might have been happy with those two goals but they saved the best to last, a free-flowing move leaving Bingham to beat Marciano yet again.

“I think even Neil Lennon clapped it,” revealed MacKinnon. “I was 50 yards back thinking, shoot, shoot, but they kept passing it. It was an amazing goal, a great team effort but we are capable of doing that.”

Anthony Stokes, who, like a number of his team-mates, had been somewhat anonymous, claimed a late consolation goal for Hibs but, admitted Lennon, the better team won on the day.

However, while admitting his side had learned “a really harsh lesson”, Lennon insisted the defeat should be kept in perspective, saying: “We have had a great start to the season. A lot of nice things have been said about the team but we are not there yet, we are not the finished article. We are still far from that.

“At the end of the day we are still the promoted team. We have done well early on and I still think we will do really well. But sometimes you have to learn and learn quickly.

“There wasn’t any player who came out with credit apart from my goalkeeper, while Steven Whittaker showed some good quality.

“But the rest let the game pass them by and that’s a real – I would say concern – but on that evidence it is a worry for me.

“I will take a real good look at it on my own. I’ll take responsibility, I’ve sort of not been myself in terms of staying on the backs of the players over the week – that won’t happen again.”