Boss Lennon glad to make over 15,000 Hibs fans happy
Hibs have paid in each of the last two seasons for being slow out of the blocks, early defeats leaving them to play a game of catch-up which they never quite managed to master.
Sure, there’s still a long, long way to go, but Neil Lennon’s players couldn’t do much more than claim six points from their first two fixtures, each of which presented their own problems for the Easter Road side.
An away trip to Falkirk, the club which had pipped them to second place in the Championship table last season and then ended their promotion hopes in the play-offs, was an obvious potential pitfall, but, so, too, was a visit from Dunfermline Athletic, the Fife outfit buoyed by their runaway League One triumph and with confidence lifted again by their opening-day win over Dumbarton.
So, while the victories over both may have come via a 2-1 scoreline, Lennon couldn’t help but be delighted at a promising start to what is a third tilt at promotion, the expectation among Hibs fans all too evident with a bumper 16,477 crowd – the largest of the day in Scotland – inside Easter Road.
“It was amazing,” confessed Lennon. “I’m just happy we have sent them home with a smile. I think that, in the main, they’ll have been pleased with what they saw.”
The supporters would certainly have been happy enough at the final whistle, but there’s no escaping the unease which had descended upon them when on-loan Hearts striker Gavin Reilly hauled Dunfermline level early in the second half, his team-mate Ben Richards-Everton’s misplaced header having given the Capital side a single-goal lead at the interval.
No doubt they’d have been harking back to only a few days earlier when Hibs had found themselves in exactly the same situation against Queen of the South, ahead but having passed up a clutch of scoring opportunities as they had done once more and paying the price as the Dumfries side knocked them out of the Betfred Cup.
Their nerves were eased, though, as Lennon’s players hit the front again with Jason Cummings claiming his third goal of the season as he cashed in on a horrible error from Callum Fordyce, the Pars defender playing his first game in 11 months following an ankle break.
Dylan McGeouch, himself just back from a much shorter spell out through injury, appeared to have overdone his ball down the line for fellow substitute Martin Boyle to turn on the after-burners, streak past Lewis Martin and then fire over a low cross which Fordyce missed, leaving Cummings to knock the ball home from inside the six-yard box.
While admitting Reilly’s goal had knocked his players out of their stride for a few minutes, Lennon, wasn’t entertaining any suggestion that there were shades of the previous Tuesday night about this display.
“It wasn’t because we won,” he said. “I don’t want to put a negative spin on what has been another very good performance. We dominated the game for long periods, had umpteen chances and attempts on goal.
“We could have been two or three up at half-time but they scored when we were in control. We just switched off, they scored a very good goal and we did wobble for ten minutes, players making basic errors for no reason. We have to learn to manage that better.
“That’s the game, you have to deal with it. But then we settled and scored a great goal, Jason in the right place at the right time but the contribution of Dylan and Martin was very good.
“I have to say I am very happy. Two wins out of two – I have to be happy with that.”
And James Keatings admitted the players shared their manager’s delight. He said: “The main thing pre-season was talking about starting quickly, getting points on the board and having a good go from the start.
“First half, I thought we dominated the game. We had plenty of chances but just couldn’t get that second goal which gave them confidence. We lost a goal which could have been prevented, got a bit nervy, but showed the character to go again and get the winner.”
Lennon insisted before a ball was kicked that it would probably take his players three of four games to get into their stride and, he admitted, there were instances in this match in which they could have done better, highlighting two efforts from Grant Holt which he felt might have ended up in the back of the net had the veteran striker shown a little more composure.
There were, as he also pointed out, two fingertip saves from Dunfermline goalkeeper David Hutton which prevented Scotland midfielder John McGinn getting his name on the scoresheet.
He said: “John was outstanding. We had good control of the game, but we have some young players that are not the finished article. There are expectations on them, sometimes even I forget how young they are.
“But I have to be pleased. This is not an easy division and Dunfermline will give a lot of teams problems.”
As promising Hibs’ start may have been, Lennon revealed he’s still working hard to bring new players to the club with, hopefully, Scotland internationalist Andrew Shinnie being the next arrival. The Birmingham City midfielder spent a spell on loan at Rotherham last season and Lennon is hoping to arrange a similar deal for the rest of the season for the former Inverness Caley player.
He said: “We have made contact with Birmingham and we are waiting to hear from the player. He’s a player I have liked for a long, long time. We’ve made the approach so we’ll see how it goes.
“I want to bring players in to strengthen what I have because we have not done a lot of business. If we can do that it will give us a bit more strength in depth although I am very pleased with what I am seeing.”
For his part, Dunfermline boss Allan Johnston was left ruing what might have been, insisting Cummings’ winner was “a cruel blow” for his side. The former Hearts player said: “At 1-1, I thought we looked like the team that was going to score.
“A lot of teams will come to Easter Road and park the bus, but we had a go and I’m really disappointed not to have got anything from the game.
“Hibs and Dundee United are the favourites to win the league but, if we put in a performance like that every week, we are not going to be far away from the top of the table.”