Hibs boss Neil Lennon has warned his players that a repeat of their Paisley horror show will see Ayr United send them crashing out of the Scottish Cup tomorrow.
Lennon was left bemused as his title-chasing side were outplayed by the Championship’s basement club St Mirren in midweek, goals either side of half-time by Buddies defender Stelios Demetriou bringing a run of 13 unbeaten matches to an end.
Although the Easter Road side still hold a seven-point lead at the top of the table, their nearest rivals Dundee United – next up in the league a week today for Lennon’s players – now enjoy a game in hand and will view the Tannadice clash as a chance to really turn up the heat in the chase for that one automatic promotion place.
Lennon, however, admitted to be perplexed as to how Hibs, who had earned plenty of praise for their derby demolition of Capital rivals Hearts, had proved to be such pale shadows of themselves against St Mirren.
Singling out emergency loan signing Efe Ambrose as his best player “by a mile” on the night, Lennon said: “The rest of the team really need to have a lot of self-analysis about that performance and some of their performances over the last few weeks.
“A week ago we were waxing lyrical about them. Where did that go in a week? That’s the criticism that’s been made for a while. I’ve been trying to change it but I have not been able to put the finger on it yet.”
Lennon has previously pondered the enigmatic nature of his squad, capable of producing a searing display to see off Premiership Hearts but struggling for draws against Raith Rovers, Ayr United and Dunfermline – three teams in the bottom half of the Championship table – before their capitulation against St Mirren.
However, while branding Wednesday night’s performance as “unacceptable”, Lennon insisted he wasn’t going to berate his players, saying: “St Mirren were the better team and I’ve not been able to say that very often this season.
“The players have to accept it and move on. We’d been unbeaten for three months. That’s come to an end and now we have to go again. We are better than that. Some of them had a really poor night but to be fair, these players have been really consistent this season, really reliable.
“We got what we deserved which was nothing. There weren’t many positives I could take other than I don’t think we can play that poorly again.”
Saints’ unexpected win will no doubt have given tomorrow’s quarter-final opponents Ayr United belief that they can come to Easter Road for a third time this season and emulate their earlier win and draw, something Lennon is well aware of.
He said: “If we do not play better, then we are out of the cup – simple as that. I expect, and I am sure, we will be a lot better. The defence of the cup is important, but our priority is the league. We are still in front, but we have to play a lot better than we showed in Paisley for sure.”
Meanwhile, Hibs midfielder Fraser Fyvie will be hit with an automatic one-match ban after picking up his sixth booking of the season. He will be available for the cup tie and to face United but will sit out the visit of Dumbarton on March 18.