HIbs boss Neil Lennon believes the backing of a huge travelling support will see his players rise to the occasion at Tannadice tonight as they seek to open up a ten-point gap on Championship title rivals Dundee United.
Some 2500 Hibs fans will descend on Tayside for the crunch clash as Lennon’s players look to end a run of five league games without a win.
Lennon believes the William Hill Scottish Cup has been a psychological distraction for his side, their performances in trying to retain the trophy far outweighing recent league displays.
But now, with their semi-final against Aberdeen not until towards the end of next month, he’s looking for his players to “switch on” in the seven games between now and then which will have a huge say in whether or not they can win the title and promotion. Admitting he’s found it frustrating that his players haven’t opened up a bigger lead at the top of the table, Lennon insisted his team isn’t far away from putting a good string of results together,
Hibs cruised to a 3-0 home win over United at the beginning of the year with one of their best performances of the season, a display which perhaps hasn’t been replicated other than in the cup matches with Capital foes Hearts.
Lennon said: “You can’t think what might have been. We are still in a strong position and we know what a win tonight would do for us. It has been frustrating that we haven’t opened up a bigger gap but nothing is given to you – you have to earn it and we certainly haven’t done that.
“The intensity and the quality of the cup performances has far outweighed the recent league performances so I know what the team is capable of. It’s just a case of transferring that mindset to the league and getting that consistency.
“I don’t think we are far away from putting a string of very good performances together. Psychologically, the cup has been a distraction – no question. It’s shown in the body language and the performances. We’ve certainly not been at the same standard for the past three or four games, whether that be for 45 minutes or the whole game.
“But the cup is, for now, irrelevant. It is six or seven weeks away and our whole focus is the Championship and that’s the way it should be anyway.
“But that’s down to the players. I can say what I want time after time but they have got to switched on to the league now,”
Lennon, though, believes tonight’s travelling support will lift his players. He said: “I think sometimes we need the atmosphere which we will, hopefully, have tonight because we are bringing a huge crowd with us. I am hoping the players respond to that in the positive manner they can.”
The Hibs manager, however, pointed out that United are unbeaten at home this season, saying: “They are a good footballing team. Tactically, Ray sets them up quite well. They’ve got diferent ways of coming at you.
“They are one of the teams that have beaten us this year so it’s a game we are fully focused and concentrating on. We know if they win the game, it will give them a big lift. If we win, then psychologically it will be huge for us.”