Crisis, what crisis? Despite not winning in their last four Championship matches, Hibs sit top of the table after the first quarter of the season.
It’s no doubt exactly where they wanted to be at this stage but they’d probably have expected to be ahead of the rest by a bit more than the three-goal margin which separates them from second-placed Queen of the South.
However, given the way Neil Lennon believes the odds have been stacking up against his side in recent weeks, the Hibs manager and his players are reasonably satisfied, going top by virtue of a no-scoring draw against Raith Rovers while Queens suffered an unexpected 5-0 hammering by Morton, giving everyone a psychological boost.
Lennon, though, was once again left to reflect on what might have been had the Easter Road side negotiated the entire 90 minutes at Stark’s Park with 11 men on the pitch, midfielder Marvin Bartley picking up the club’s third red card in their last four league games before half-time.
Bartley was the innocent victim when sent off against Ayr United, his dismissal later over-turned on appeal as Lennon believes this ordering off will be, leading to the Championship newcomers – one down at the time – staging a fightback to take the three points and precipitate a winless run for Hibs which now stretches to five matches, encompassing their Irn-Bru Cup exit.
“Gobsmacked. Absolutely gobsmacked,” was Lennon’s reaction to referee Stephen Finnie flashing red at Bartley following a clash with Raith’s Bobby Barr, the Hibs boss admitting he was puzzled at how the Kirkcaldy outfit picked up five yellow cards and his side only one and yet found themselves once again short-handed.
“I’m not saying any of their players deserved to go off, but none of mine did either,” insisted a clearly exasperated Lennon, who had words with Finnie as they headed for the tunnel at the interval and was later spoken to by the official as his frustration on the touchline grew in the second half.
Choosing his words carefully for fear of falling foul of the SFA, Lennon revealed: “He says Marvin has retaliated and stood on the boy’s groin. I’ve looked at it and he’s nowhere near the boy’s groin.
“It’s little kick out that doesn’t warrant a red card. I thought it was our foul. He’s given it to Raith, sent Marvin off for retaliation and he’s then given us the free-kick. There was a lot of confusion going on.”
Barr’s stance, unsurprisingly, was somewhat different, the Raith midfielder, who had to be restrained by team-mates, insisting: “The boy has just kicked me. I’ve not done anything and the referee was looking straight at it. I went for a tackle, the ball broke away and Bartley has just booted me. I didn’t make a meal of it and you can’t argue with the ref that it was a red card.
“I was upset because he called me something, but the red card was for kicking me off the ball and I believe he got that right. I didn’t ask for him to get sent off, but it happened.”
Lennon, though, believes Bartley was once again the victim of a poor decision, saying: “I’m probably more confident of winning this one [an appeal] than the last one. Look at the foul count in all our games and there’s a discipline in our team, we are very disciplined.
“Do we look a dirty team? Lewis Stevenson got sent off at Queen of the South and there was far more going on out there today that warranted a second yellow and that’s what Lewis was sent off for. It’s ridiculous.
“We are looking for consistency and we are not being given a fair crack of the whip. I’m not accusing referees of dishonesty or anything like that, but we aren’t getting fairness at the minute. I feel we deserve a bit of luck as well.”
The fact he felt his side were denied three clear-cut penalties in the second half didn’t help Lennon’s mood either. He said: “I need an explanation from the referee and his officials because there were clear penalties on Holt. The No.14 [Iain Davidson] drags him down and the referee has a clear view of it.
“And there’s a handball by [Jean-Yves] M’Voto but he doesn’t give it. He actually waits to see what happens and then gives a free-kick against us for a foul on one of their defenders.”
Lennon revealed he asked to speak to Finnie after the match but, the Evening News understands, the referee and his two assistants had left Stark’s Park before he got that chance, leaving the Hibs boss to put a call into John Fleming, the SFA’s head of refereeing, to seek an explanation.
As in the matches against Ayr and Queens, Lennon believed his players had done enough to win the match, although Paul Hanlon’s glancing header which caught the top of Raith goalkeeper Kevin Cuthbert’s crossbar was the closest either side came to scoring, leaving Rovers manager Gary Locke to concede it was a good point for his side, one which keeps the Fife club very much in the race for a play-off spot with only four points now separating the top five teams.
Lennon said: “The sending-off sends your plans out of the window. We looked in the ascendancy and then having a man sent off changes it. But I don’t want to take anything away from my team – I thought they were absolutely brilliant, our goalkeeper had nothing to do.
“Holt was outstanding, used all his experience and I thought their back four struggled against him.
“I took him off because he was tired, James Keatings and Jason Cumming worked their tails off, the back four were strong, resolute.
“We’ve not won in five, but in three of them we have been down to ten men.”