Neil Lennon today hailed Hibs’ 3-0 demolition of Championship rivals Dundee United as the best performance he has seen from his team, describing himself as “very proud” of each and every one of his players.
But the Easter Road boss confessed he was a little taken aback by the display he’d witnessed, revealing he and his assistant Garry Parker had “agonised” until barely two hours before kick-off over the team and the formation to play.
He admitted he’d taken a gamble in playing new signing Chris Humphrey but was rewarded for his decision to throw him straight into action, the winger creating the opening two goals for Jason Cummings before John McGinn marked his return to action after a lengthy lay-off following ankle surgery with a third.
Claiming the winning margin which left Hibs four points ahead of United at the top of the table could have been even more emphatic, Lennon said: “I could not have asked for any more, it was an outstanding team performance, the best I have witnessed since I came here and against a very good side that’s been very consistent for the last three months. For us to have played as well as that, dominate the game as well as that, create the chances and score the goals speaks volumes for the level of performance.”
Pointing out it was Humphrey’s first game since playing for Preston in October, Lennon said: “It was a bit of a gamble. We agonised over the team and formation right up to 4.30 or 5.30, even the subs. Sometimes it works for you, sometimes it doesn’t. Thankfully he played well, he was brilliant and set the tone.
“Sometimes you need someone to spark it and he gave us that spark but Martin Boyle on the other side was outstanding, he must have run a marathon.
“But it would be unfair to single out anyone. It was a top team performance from everyone. I was a bit surprised, I was not expecting us to play as well as that. We did lack a bit of physicality so I was worried about set plays.
“We gambled a bit with the formation and the team but there was a real hunger, a good tempo, energy. We’d put so much into the first half I was a little worried about fatigue but we found our second wind in the last 20 or 25 minutes and we could have won by more.
“We looked a threat every time we attacked, especially in the first half. But I’m delighted; they showed their big-game mentality because there was a lot of pressure on them. There was a lot of build-up although we tried to play it down as much as we could.
“It was our biggest game of the season because it was the next one, and now Dumbarton next week becomes even more important.”
Lennon admitted he’d only thrown McGinn on for the final few minutes to “shore things up” but was delighted to see the Scotland midfielder take Dylan McGeouch’s short corner before sliding the ball between the legs of United goalkeeper Cammy Bell.
He said: “John’s only trained for 20 minutes on Wednesday and Thursday. The medical team have done a great job as has John. He’s a fantastic professional and for him to score was the icing on the cake.”
Asked what this win meant in terms of the title, Lennon insisted: “All it means is we are four points clear which gives us a boost and psychologically gives the fans a lift, nothing more.
“But I think the occasion, the atmosphere under the lights, brought the best out of the players.”
Dundee United manager Ray McKinnon lamented his side’s insipid display. “The first 20 minutes killed us,” he said. “We lost two terrible goals which left us with a mountain to climb. We had far too many boys not at the races and didn’t deserve anything.”
McKinnon insisted the defeat did not represent a fatal blow to his side’s title hopes. “Four points is nothing in this league,” he said. “That’s just a couple of draws [for Hibs]. If you’d said to me at the start of the season that we’d be four points off the top at this stage I’d have bitten your hand off. That’s the way we’re looking at it – we’re going to try and give it everything to the end of the season.”