Lennon: Hibs didn’t deserve loss – but it won’t derail title bid

Dundee United's Cammy Bell saves the penalty from Martin Boyle (No.17)
Dundee United's Cammy Bell saves the penalty from Martin Boyle (No.17)
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Neil Lennon insisted Hibs didn’t deserve to lose last night’s top-of-the table showdown with Dundee United, but the head coach is confident the defeat won’t derail their title bid.

The Easter Road side had the chance to go six points clear if they won at Tannadice, but are instead level on points with the Tayside outfit after a match defined by two penalties which went the way of the hosts.

With the game goalless, Hibs striker Martin Boyle had a 54th-minute spot-kick saved by Cammy Bell and then United attacker Tony Andreu won it with a penalty 13 minutes from the end. “From where I was sitting we didn’t deserve to lose the game,” said Lennon. “I didn’t think we were at our best in the first half, but in the second half we were in the ascendancy. The game hinged on two penalties. If we had scored at that time, we were well on top in the game, and we had a few chances after that. At 0-0 anything can happen. I didn’t think we deserved to lose so it’s a sore one.”

Boyle’s kick was easily blocked by Bell. The striker, who had scored four goals in his previous four games, won the penalty after being fouled by Lewis Toshney but had to negotiate with strike partner Grant Holt to decide who should take it.

“Boyle was designated last week so he was on them,” said Lennon. “Grant missed the last one. Whether it put Martin off, I don’t know, but he has been hitting them alright in the week. But he didn’t hit it well enough tonight. That one got away.

“When we missed the penalty, it gave United a lift, but our response was good. [Andrew] Shinnie was outstanding. He really took the team by the scruff of the neck. It was disappointing not to score when we had decent chances.”

Hibs are now top of the league only on goal difference from a United side who are unbeaten in 11 games in all competitions since September. Lennon is confident his side won’t be knocked off course by only their second defeat of the league campaign.

“We are still top but it’s a game we felt we could have extended our lead,” he said. “We’ll come again. We’ll get back on track, no question about that. There’s a few with their heads down but they’ve just got to pick themselves up again and respond in the right manner, and I’m sure they will.”

United have won nine of their past 11 games and appear to have genuine momentum heading into the festive period. Their manager, Ray McKinnon, was in good spirits but refused to get carried away by his team’s fine form since overcoming a slow start to the season.

“We’re delighted to be up there, joint top of the league now, but nothing is won in December,” he said. “Of course you would rather be there than sitting mid-table but nobody is getting carried away. I said before the game I didn’t think this was a defining game because there’s so far to go still. We need to bring in players in January to keep the team moving along the way we want it to go.”

McKinnon paid tribute to former Rangers goalkeeper Bell after what was his seventh penalty save, including shootouts. “Cammy’s a fantastic goalkeeper – we were absolutely delighted to get him,” said the United manager. “We can’t expect him to keep saving penalties because the law of averages means someone is going to score, but I did have a feeling he might do it tonight. I was standing thinking ‘there’s every chance he’ll save it here’. Cammy saved their penalty and we scored our penalty, that’s what it came down to in the end.”