Neil Lennon: Hibs draws are driving me mental

Jason Cummings was left frustrated by the final scoreline after putting Hibs ahead, below
Jason Cummings was left frustrated by the final scoreline after putting Hibs ahead, below
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This is all starting to get a bit wearisome. Since the end of January, Hibs fans have been anticipating the day the club will finally be crowned as winners of the Championship and with it the greater prize of promotion back into the top flight.

But week after week they’ve been left frustrated, the trophy just about within reach but tantalisingly still eluding them as they pass up chance after chance to let the celebrations begin.

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Manager Neil Lennon had offered his players the excuse of having half an eye on defending the Scottish Cup with those derbies against arch-rivals Hearts, expressing the hope that once those games were out of the way full attention could be paid on a more important goal, the title.

However, after a run of four successive wins at the turn of the year, Lennon’s players have enjoyed just three victories in ten games, six of those games ending, as in this outing, in draws.

Nevertheless, Hibs still hold a nine-point lead at the top of the table, not yet mathematically assured of finishing the season in that position but surely enough, with games rapidly running out, to do so.

But what does the fact they enjoy such an advantage say about the Championship? Competitive it certainly is, and becoming even more so in these final few weeks as those teams at the bottom battle to escape the threat of relegation or being enmeshed in a play-off to hopefully avoid the drop.

Whatever the merits or demerits of the second tier of Scottish football, the one quality which has been lacking is consistency although, in a way, it’s not something you could accuse Hibs of, the Capital club having drawn an astonishing 13 of their 32 matches so far.

“It’s driving me mental,” admitted Lennon. “Some guy on the pools must be making a fortune out of us. It’s not good enough.”

With Dundee United and Falkirk also drawing, it meant, at the end of the day, this draw at Cappielow saw no real harm done but Lennon was far from pleased, saying: “We should be winning. I am going white.

“I don’t like criticising players but, if there’s one criticism, it is we have not won. We’ve had 13 draws and we could easily have won ten of them because of the chances we’ve created.”

The first of those came as early as the 17th minute when Brian Graham nodded skipper David Gray’s cross down into the path of John McGinn, who failed to make contact, the midfielder admitting he should have scored.

He said: “It should have been in the back of the net. I knew afterwards how big a chance it was.”

Jason Cummings did so a little bit later, claiming his 21st goal of the season as he held off Morton defender Thomas O’Ware to get on the end of a long clearance before lashing the ball beyond goalkeeper Derek Gaston.

The home side had offered little direct threat to Hibs’ goal until Efe Ambrose totally sold himself, getting the wrong side of Lawrence Shankland, allowing him to feed Jamie McDonagh, who was upended by a rash tackle from Darren McGregor, one he probably didn’t need to make.

Shankland converted the resulting penalty but, again, Hibs spurned a gilt-edged chance which might have won them the game, Graham taking the ball too close to Gaston after McGinn’s pass had put him clear.

“Brian should have scored,” insisted Lennon. “Jason shows a bit of composure with only the goalkeeper to beat and sticks it in the net. That’s why he’s so highly-rated.

“I was really disappointed at the goal we lost, Darren did the same against Hearts when we were 3-0 up but he has been magnificent for me. We were never in any trouble. I can’t remember Ofi [goalkeeper Ofir Marciano] having a save to make.

“We were really comfortable first half and then we started getting into the bad habits of the old Hibs, tippy-tappy football, not getting the ball wide or into the box. You couldn’t play football on that pitch, it was bouncy, and rutted like a lot of pitches are. I’m not blaming adverse conditions, some pitches in the Premiership are not great but it is difficult to play any flowing football.”

But, while he had no quibble with the penalty Morton were awarded, Lennon was left raging at one Hibs didn’t get when, with the game goalless Martin Boyle’s volley clearly came back off the outstretched arms of Morton’s Mark Russell.

According to McGinn, referee Madden told him Russell was too close to the ball when it was struck but, like Lennon, the Scotland midfielder pointed to the penalty awarded against Lewis Stevenson the previous week at Dunfermline, one which resulted in yet another draw for Hibs.

McGinn said: “It was the exact same thing that happened last week. All we want is consistency. If we got that, we would have gone on to win the game. But a team of our quality shouldn’t be relying on penalties. We are obviously aggrieved with decisions but hopefully at some stage in the season it comes back in our favour. I don’t think there’s any agenda against us. The refs try their best. Sometimes they get it right, sometimes they get it wrong.

“I think on a couple of occasions today they got it wrong. But hopefully next week things turn in our favour.”

McGinn, though, admitted the players shared the fans’ frustration that clinching the title has become a long, drawn-out affair for the team made red-hot favourites before a ball was kicked.

He said: “We are the most frustrated of all. We know what we are capable of and we are missing stupid chances and giving away goals. It’s amateur stuff at times.

“But, at the end of the day, we are still nine points clear at the top. We have not lost and I think last season out of those 13 draws, half of them could have been defeats. So we have progressed.

“We are crawling over the line – but we will get there.”

Following the much-publicised bust-up between Lennon and his Morton counterpart Jim Duffy at Easter Road ten days earlier many had been looking – or perhaps hoping – for a repeat performance but the managers shared a handshake and a warm embrace as Hibs arrived at the ground, both insisting afterwards that what happened is now forgotten.