Delighted Neil Lennon says Hibs deserve place in Betfred Cup semis
Neil Lennon claimed Hibs thoroughly deserved their place in the semi-finals of the Betfred Cup despite having to twice come from behind to defeat Championship outfit Livingston.
An Anthony Stokes penalty just seven minutes from time clinched a fifth Hampden visit in just 18 months for the Capital side, but while he admitted it might have been nervous at times, Lennon praised the character of his players.
The Easter Road boss was adamant his side could have been three up before Alan Lithgow stunned the home fans as he glanced home Raffaele De Vita’s free-kick.
Danny Swanson cancelled out that strike with his first goal for Hibs, only for De Vita to fire Livingston ahead again.
Martin Boyle equalised for a second time and just as it looked as if the quarter-final was heading for extra-time on-loan Hearts player, Nikolay Todorov bundled Hibs defender Paul Hanlon over inside his own penalty area, with referee Bobby Madden having no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
When asked if he felt the main thing was that Hibs were through to next month’s semi-finals, Lennon replied: “I do not know what you mean. You do not think we played well?
“I thought we were excellent, from an attacking point of view, we could have scored three goals in the first ten minutes. We scored two beautiful goals.
“Their second goal was a great goal, we couldn’t go much about it the first one was poor from us, the first set-play. The character of the team was fantastic, you are looking at a very happy man. We are in the semi-final we got the win, created umpteen chances and we thoroughly deserved to win the game.
“It might have been a bit nervy at times, but I thought we had good control of the game for long spells.”
Lennon made four changes after letting rip at his players given the way they had surrendered a two goal lead against Motherwell at the weekend but, he insisted, the switches were only partly down to that.
“It was a bit of both,” he said. “I thought Danny was ready to play. I thought he was outstanding, his finish was brilliant. Dylan McGeouch was tremendous when he came on and that will do him the world of good.
“In the second half we were never in trouble. I was thinking of making another change and putting on another forward player just before we got the goal because we were working the ball into good areas the last little bit was letting us down but we got the penalty and Stokesy put it away brilliantly.”
Livingston boss David Hopkin was adamant the penalty was only one of a number of decision that he described as baffling by referee Madden and Lennon conceded he felt it was a call which might have gone either way.
He said: “I didn’t get a good view of it. David may say it was a bit soft and from where I was it could have gone either way, but defensively we looked very assured.”
Lennon’s joy was tempered, though, by the revelation skipper David Gray has been added to a growing injury list, with fellow defenders Darren McGregor and Liam Fontaine out having had surgery.
Gray limped off after just 13 minutes to be replaced by Steven Whittaker after he stretched to return the ball across the Livingston goal.
Lennon said: “He felt a twinge, hopefully it’s not going to be too bad. We will have to wait and see what the diagnosis is.”