Five games which defined Hibs' 2017/18 season
Shortly after promotion back to the Ladbrokes Premiership, Hibs boss Neil Lennon told BT Sport that the club's aim was to finish second.It was a brave stance but it was Lennon in a nutshell '“ demanding but confident. Looking back on those comments, you can understand his confidence. Hibs have been a great addition to the top tier, playing some of the best football in the division.Ultimately, they fell just short of achieving Lennon's aims, but they provided much to get excited about along the way.Here are five games which defined their season ...
RANGERS 2, HIBS 3: LADBROKES PREMIERSHIP, AUGUST 12
Hibs had played in the top flight for the first time in 1183 days at home to Partick Thistle a week earlier, a colourful and atmospheric Easter Road seeing a 3-1 win over a side who had reached the top six the previous season.
Lennon’s “best of the rest” claims were a bullish prediction which raised a number of eyebrows and even brought ridicule in some parts. Then Hibs went to Ibrox in their second league fixture of the season.
It didn’t start well with Rangers striker Alfredo Morelos heading in the opener before former Hibee Kenny Miller had two chances to extend the home side’s lead.
But Hibs were a threat on the counter-attack with Simon Murray, the pacey forward equalising with an excellent individual goal.
Hibs were in the ascendancy when they were given a further boost with the sending-off of Ryan Jack. They took advantage of their man advantage with a fortunate own goal before half-time.
There was nothing fortunate about their third, though, Lithuanian midfielder Vykintas Slivka rifling in from long range, a goal which was later voted the club’s best of the campaign.
Rangers pulled a goal back but it was a deserved win for Neil Lennon’s men, who could easily have won by more, laying down an early marker, both in terms of performance and result.
CELTIC 2, HIBS 2: LADBROKES PREMIERSHIP, SEPTEMBER 30
Former Celtic boss Neil Lennon took the acclaim of the home support before the game. Afterwards he, along with his Hibs team, were taking the acclaim of the wider Scottish football public thanks to an impressive display in Glasgow.
Hibs went toe-to-toe with Brendan Rodgers’ men in a captivating encounter.
Ofir Marciano was superb in the Hibs goal, while Craig Gordon made one of the saves of the season to deny Steven Whittaker.
Celtic went ahead through Callum McGregor in the first half but rather than wilt, as many sides do at Parkhead, Hibs grew in stature and took the lead thanks to two sumptuous strikes by John McGinn, who was recognised as the best player on the pitch.
McGregor claimed his second of the game to ensure the home side gained a point, keeping their long unbeaten domestic record going.
What Hibs showed was that there was another way to play Celtic, that there are domestic rivals who can compete with Celtic in both a physical and football sense. It was also another strong display from the Easter Road men, who had not quite garnered the points at that point in the season that their performances deserved.
ABERDEEN 4, HIBS 1: LADBROKES PREMIERSHIP, DECEMBER 16
‘Cowdenbeath would have beaten Hibs’, claimed Lennon after defeat at Pittodrie although the Hibs boss walked back his view on his players after the heavy defeat, admitting he was too hard on them.
The Northern Irishman wears his heart on his sleeve and is not afraid to voice his opinion, especially in the immediate aftermath. He was prone to an outburst during the club’s Championship-winning season, keeping his players on their toes.
It is a road he has travelled down less frequently in the top tier but he gave the team both barrels after a disastrous performance.
The away side found themselves 3-0 down at half-time after hat-trick kero Gary Mackay-Steven gave the Hibs defence, namely Efe Ambrose, a chasing. Darren McGregor and Marvin Bartley were hooked at half-time but, if Lennon could, he’d have swapped all 11.
The second half was a damage limitation exercise.
It proved a key turning point in the season, Hibs losing only once in their next 17 fixtures.
HIBS 2, HEARTS 0: LADBROKES PREMIERSHIP, MARCH 9
When Hearts knocked Hibs out of the Scottish Cup in January, Hearts boss Craig Levein made a comment about restoring the “natural order” of the derby. It was a phrase which irked Neil Lennon and Hibs in general.
When the teams met again less than two months later, Hibs were two places and nine points ahead of their city rivals. With three points, Hibs could keep on the coat-tails of Aberdeen and within touching distance of Rangers in second, while putting Hearts’ slim hopes of European football to bed.
That’s exactly what happened.
The first half was largely even, and largely a non-event. But there was no question as to who were the stronger team after the break. Scott Allan rifled in the opener with Jamie Maclaren adding a second after he had earlier seen a shot tipped onto the bar by Hearts goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin.
Hibs’ control over proceedings was emphasised by the fact Hearts failed to record an effort on target.
As the game neared its conclusion, Hibs fans unfurled a banner aimed at Levein which simply asked: ‘Natural Order?’ Afterwards, Lennon branded Hearts ‘irrelevant’ having extended the gap to 12 points.
HIBS 5, KILMARNOCK 3: LADBROKES PREMIERSHIP, APRIL 28
After beating Celtic 2-1 in their first post-split match, Hibs went into the following game against Kilmarnock knowing another victory would, at least, ensure them of a fourth-place finish.
Like Neil Lennon’s side, Killie had been one of the top flight’s in-fORm teams, totally revitalised under Steve Clarke as they’d rocketed from the foot of the table to challenging for a place in Europe, arriving at Easter Road beaten just once in their previous 12 league games.
It was an encounter which lived up to expectations, an eight-goal thriller in which Scott Allan and Steven Whittaker twice had the Capital outfit ahead only to be pegged back by strikes from Kris Boyd and Stuart Findlay.
Hibs began to breathe a little easier as Jamie Maclaren and Florian Kamberi gave them a two-goal cushion but a stunning free-kick from veteran hitman Boyd prompted a nervy ending for the home support until Brandon Barker secured the three points in the final minute.
The win not only meant Killie couldn’t overtake Hibs but strengthened the Easter Road side’s hopes of overhauling Rangers and Aberdeen in the race for second place, a dream which, sadly, went unfulfilled.