Hibs reaction: Paul Hanlon welcomes Dingwall of noise
There was one voice which could be heard above the other 4181 inside Ross County's Global Energy Stadium, that of Hibs boss Neil Lennon, barking orders, cajoling, castigating and encouraging in equal measure.
It’s no secret that Lennon wears his heart on his sleeve, prowling the edge of his technical area in every match with, no doubt, the wish that he could creep forward those extra few inches to still be out there kicking every ball.
Those days, of course, are past, but it doesn’t stop the 46-year-old playing his part although it is probably only in smaller grounds such as that in Dingwall where you can fully appreciate just how emotionally involved he becomes.
Lennon’s players have endured the sharp end of his tongue, the combative former Celtic midfielder and manager never one to shirk speaking his mind – and not always in the privacy of the dressing-room as witnessed only seven days earlier when he had subjected them to withering criticism.
But, while he may make some folk cringe at times, Hibs defender Paul Hanlon says his manager’s voice is music to the ears, particularly when the going gets tough, as it did at times as he and his team-mates battled to hang on to the lead his 13th-minute strike had given them on Saturday.
“You know he is always going to be there supporting you when there is a battle in the game,” said the 29-year-old. “He is kicking every ball with you and it is great to have that support from the sidelines.
“Sometimes you give him the nod, ‘I can hear you’, other times you blank it out. It’s great he is so passionate, he wants us to win and drives us on at times. We were only one goal up and it can get a bit scary towards the end with Ross County putting pressure on us but he is there giving his support.”
The win, Hibs’ first in five Premiership matches, might have been by the narrowest of margins but other than insisting his team should have enjoyed a far more comfortable victory – County’s goalkeeper Scott Fox named man of the match an indication that his assessment was correct – Lennon was, according to Hanlon, in far better mood than he had been after watching a two-goal lead over Motherwell surrendered.
The defender said: “We deserved the three points. The only criticism was that he wanted us to make it a bit more comfortable for ourselves. He was delighted with the performance. Coming all the way up here that makes the journey home that bit easier.”
The decisive moment came when John McGinn’s corner fell at the feet of Hanlon, who was the first to react, wheeling to hammer a shot beyond Fox, later to pull off two terrific saves from Hibs striker Anthony Stokes, who also saw a late free-kick clip the outside of the post.
However, a one-goal lead is always a precarious position to be in and goalkeeper Ross Laidlaw proved to be as pivotal a figure as any, somehow making a point-blank stop as he managed to divert Michael Gardyne’s shot on to the post and then, later in the game, throwing himself full length to push Alex Schalk’s effort aside.
His performance would have heartened Lennon, who has his No.1, Israeli internationalist Ofir Marciano, ruled out of Saturday’s visit to table-topping and seemingly invincible – on the domestic front at least – Celtic, because of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement.
The Hibs boss said: “Ross was very sharp as he has been in the main since he came in. We’re running with him because Ofir won’t play this weekend. It was important we got him some game time and he did very well.
“He had to make one very important save at a crucial stage of the game. He did well in midweek [in the Betfred Cup win over Livingston] and he was excellent again; we have two good goalkeepers.”
Lennon was also happy with the contribution of Hanlon, who was captain as David Gray recovers from a hamstring injury, saying: “It was the best he has played all season over the course of the ninety minutes.
“He led the team, organised well. We defended set-plays well and we looked a lot more like ourselves. It’s not easy to go to Ross County and win at any time. We know they are going through a sticky patch but from our point of view it was important to go there and win.”
Having seen his side sacrifice six points as they were forced to settle for draws in their three previous outings against Dundee, St Johnstone and Motherwell, matches he felt Hibs should have won, Lennon joked he would have “stuck my head in the oven” had they not held out for the win this time round.
He said: “In the last three games, we have been the better team for the majority of them. We’ve created chances and not taken them. Every time we have gone away from home the opposition goalkeeper seems to come away with a man-of-the-match performance.
“We are a good team and we’ve been playing like that for the majority of the season. Away from home, we look to be a real threat. We’ve been at Dundee and St Johnstone, created umpteen chances and we did the same today.
“But it was nearly one of those days again. We bombarded their goal but we were just a bit wayward with our finishing. I’m frustrated with the chances we are missing but I’ll take it as it was a big, big win in the context of the season.
“I thought we got what we deserved and I was very satisfied. It was important to win because we hadn’t done so since Ibrox. We are comfortably in the top six and, with a place in the semi-final of the cup booked, it’s been a good week for us.
“We are creating really good chances and one day hopefully goals will start to flow, we will win more comfortably and I can sit down and enjoy it.”
The chances of that happening would appear to be slim as Lennon searches for that impossible dream of perfection but, insisted Hanlon, there’s still much more to come from Hibs even though they have suffered just one defeat so far this season.
“We have added a lot of players this season and it might take a while for everyone to gel properly. But there is competition for places all over.
“We were without our captain, two centre-halves and Brandon Barker all injured, but you wouldn’t really notice it when you look at our starting line-up. It’s great to have such strength in depth.”