Keeping Kris Commons for the rest of the season may prove to be a bit beyond Hibs’ purse strings but there’s little doubt that in his short spell in Edinburgh he has made a priceless contribution to the club’s Championship title bid.
A stunning late free-kick to clinch all three points against Falkirk and now the only goal of the game at Dumbarton – goals which, arguably, are the reason why Neil Lennon’s players today sit six points clear at the top of the table.
The Celtic midfielder’s 28-day emergency loan is now at an end and although the 33-year-old has admitted staying in the Capital and playing a part in returning Hibs to the Premiership “would be a great”, it’s clear complex negotiations need to take place between the clubs. As Commons said he needs to speak to Celtic in the first instance although it’s clear he has no future under manager Brendan Rodgers. But while both he and Hibs are keen to extend his loan, finance for a player reputed to be on some £19,000 a week is an obvious obstacle.
Whether or not some sort of compromise can be reached remains to be seen, Lennon saying: “It’s something we have to discuss over the next few days but if we could do it we would.
“I’ve not really spoken to Kris, I’ve left him to it. But I think he would like to. I think he has enjoyed his football, being back out there playing again and scoring goals.
“However, there may be other suitors out there as well because of the contribution he has made since he has been here.”
Having not played since last April it’s been clear the former Scotland internationalist has been striving for full match fitness, hampered by a touch of flu which threatened to keep him out of the 3-0 demolition of United, but glimpses of his undoubted ability have shone through. The goal that sank the Bairns was one and this time round it was Commons who was in the right place to meet Darren Barr’s partial clearance and deliver a first-time shot which zipped into the bottom corner of Dumbarton goalkeeper Alan Martin’s net.
From then on in it was something of a grind for Hibs, their part-time opposition showing exactly why their patch beneath “The Rock” has become such a difficult venue for teams such as Hibs who enjoy vastly superior resources, underlined by the fact their boss Stevie Aitken could name only four substitutes while Lennon’s bench boasted the likes of John McGinn, Grant Holt, James Keatings and Andrew Shinnie among the seven sat there.
Well organised, compact and not lacking a bit of adventure, Dumbarton made it a difficult 90 minutes for Hibs, Garry Fleming’s flick catching the bar while goalkeeper Ross Laidlaw was forced to bravely dive at the feet of his former Raith Rovers team-mate Lewis Vaughan – the best player on the pitch – to prevent an equaliser.
And, for once, Christian Nade, so often Hibs’ nemesis wasn’t to have the last laugh, the former Hearts striker somehow putting the ball wide from only a couple of yards out as fellow substitute Tom Lang’s low cross found him all alone at the back post with seconds remaining.
It wasn’t pretty, in fact, it was just ugly but, as Laidlaw insisted, it’s wins such as this which help lift titles. The goalkeeper said: “The three points were the most important thing. Dumbarton have beaten Dundee United twice and Falkirk on their own ground so they are a hard team to beat. The gaffer said to us that sometimes you aren’t going to go out and play pretty football, you need to come to these places and just grind out a result which is exactly what we did. Then coming off to hear United had dropped points again gives us momentum.
“There’s still a long way to go, but it’s massive to go there and get the points. Sometimes it isn’t about the performance, it’s just about getting the points but we also kept another clean sheet which made it a good result away from home.”
Hibs never reached the heights of the performance they had produced in trouncing United eight days earlier, Lennon going with the same formation only for his wingers Chris Humphrey and Martin Boyle, who had been deployed with devastating effect against the Tannadice club, frustrated and unable to have any real impact on the game while top scorer Jason Cummings cut a sorry figure up front as he struggled to cause the Dumbarton rearguard any real problems.
But Lennon’s backline was again rock-solid, coming up with an 11th clean sheet of the season, Liam Fontaine having replaced the injured Paul Hanlon alongside Darren McGregor in the centre.
Lennon said: “Straight after the United game, my thoughts turned to this one because I knew how difficult it was going to be. They’d beaten United and Falkirk, Stevie Aitken had won manager of the month.
“It was important we got the first goal because if it had gone to Dumbarton they’d have camped in. They had a real good go at it but these are the games you have to grind out. Having said that, though, we had three or four great chances in the second half, Boyle had a couple, Chris Humphrey, John McGinn, Lewis Stevenson, so it’s not as if we were not getting chances.
“But perhaps I should have gone a bit more physical. When Holt came on we looked stronger up there. The boys at the back were outstanding, McGregor has been a mountain all season, Fonts has come in and done a good job and the goalkeeper has played really well when we needed him.
“As the season progresses, you are not going to get things all your own way and that was certainly the case.”
Standing by his contention that Hibs will win the title, Dumbarton boss Aitken admitted he was simply proud of the way in which his side had played saying: “To a man, I thought they were outstanding.
“Neil, experienced man that he is, knows how to get over the line, and he made a lot of good comments when we came off the park about the way my team had played.”