Paul Hanlon has admitted Hibs should have been too good for Ayr United even with ten men.
The Easter Road side were left stunned after the Championship newcomers staged a terrific fightback to snatch victory as Neil Lennon’s players were knocked off the top of the table.
Top scorer Jason Cummings had given the Capital outfit an early second half lead with his eighth goal of the season, but after midfield enforcer Marvin Bartley was sent off, former Hearts defender Conrad Balatoni and Brian Gilmour struck to claim victory.
Like Lennon, Hanlon had no doubt Bartley’s red card – flashed by referee Nick Walsh after he’d lunged at Ayr’s Jamie Adams – changed the game, although he believed he and his team-mates should still have been able to hold on for what would have been a club record of winning their opening six league games.
Hanlon said: “I think the sending off changed things a bit, going down to ten men, but I think we should still have had enough to see out the game.
“The first one is a set-piece and you never want to concede in that manner and the manager is always telling us that is where games are won and lost, so that is really disappointing.
“Then we have been caught with a breakaway, the boy [Nicky Devlin] does well to get a cross and there is a body [Gilmour] free in the box. These things shouldn’t happen.
“It is really disappointing because, up until those, I don’t think they had threatened too much.
“I’m more looking at the things that happened after the sending off. The referee makes a decision and we need to adjust, we need to be good enough to handle that situation – and we weren’t. We were not under any pressure until that point and we should be good enough to see out that game.”
Lennon claimed Bartley’s challenge was “innocuous” and Hanlon insisted there were worse tackles in the match which only resulted in yellow cards.
The 26-year-old said: “I’ve not looked at the incident and, at the time, Marv had four bodies around him, so I couldn’t really see it.
“The referee seems pretty adamant it was a red, he didn’t take any time to think – it was straight to the top pocket. He is trying to get free and maybe lunges a wee bit.
“He knows he has lunged but he says he wasn’t too high or anything like that.
“Like anything, if you are the player who does that and you don’t mean to hurt the opponent, then you will always feel that you are hard done by.
“That’s one thing – there is a fine line. It’s frustrating that Marv’s is a tackle in the middle of the pitch, but when we are breaking away and they clip your heels, it’s only a yellow – yet they are more dangerous positions.”
Now, Hanlon admitted, he and his team-mates need to bounce back and quickly with a difficult trip to face Queen of the South on Saturday, the unbeaten Palmerston Park club having replaced Hibs at the top of the table with former Easter Road striker Stephen Dobbie claiming another two goals in their 3-1 win over Raith Rovers at the weekend.
He said: “It’s a different test for us now.
“We have not experienced defeat in the league this year and that will test our character going into next week. But we have the squad for that and we’ll pick ourselves up and be good to go next week.
“Queen of the South is always a tough one. Ever since we were relegated that has never been an easy game for us, but it’s one to look forward to and shaping up to be a big game.
“We’ll be back and full of confidence and looking to get the win.”
Deflating Hibs further was the realisation they’d passed up the chance of that winning record, Hanlon admitting: “That is an added thing. It wasn’t something I had thought about too much in the build-up to the game but, looking back now, it is probably something that makes the defeat an extra disappointment.”