Hibs reaction: Lennon's men have come long way in short time
Neil Lennon's furious attack on Hamilton's 'caveman' tactics and his claim referee Don Robertson was 'completely out of his depth' predictably claimed all the headlines.
No-one was going to look such a gift horse in the mouth, their report on this match virtually writing itself thanks to the outburst from the Hibs manager.
But, in doing so, Lennon conveniently deflected attention from the fact that, for the second week running, his side had surrendered precious points, the three dropped in conceding that last-minute winner to St Johnstone and then losing a goal to what was Accies’ only attempt on target in the entire 90 minutes, twice robbing the Capital club of the opportunity to claim second place in the Premiership table.
Okay, that might only have been on a temporary basis, but imagine the psychological boost that would have brought going into what Lennon has admitted will be a tough December, a month containing seven matches including clashes with Celtic, Rangers and Aberdeen in the space of just six days.
And, in the long run, it’s debatable whether the Easter Road outfit could sustain that lofty perch. However, given Aberdeen, prior to yesterday’s 3-1 success at Kilmarnock, had won just one in four while Rangers – after that apparent filip they got as Graeme Murty took the reins –, seem to have reverted to type in the past couple of weeks, it’s clear every point is going to count.
More importantly, perhaps, at this stage of the season is to endeavour to widen that gap from the mid-table muddle and so avoid a late scramble for a top-six finish which, surely, must be the immediate aim for a club back in the top flight after a three-year absence.
Having said that, such has been the impact Hibs have had thus far that fans have begun to greet results such as this with a measure of disappointment with, inevitably, some treating them as akin to a disaster.
Marvin Bartley and his team-mates were disappointed not to be heading to their Christmas night out in Dublin afterwards not having won but, insisted the midfield powerhouse, everyone needs to keep their feet on the ground. He said: “It’s more points gone, but you have to remember which league we were in last season. We have done very well and I think expectations might be growing from outside the club, people looking at it and saying ‘it’s Hibs, they should be winning this game’.
“We have just come up from the Championship and, yes, ee are going really well. But perhaps people have to pinch themselves at times and say this is roughly the same group of players from the Championship who have stepped up and done well.
“It’s a learning curve – we are coming up against better players.”
Bartley ended his comment by adding: “And maybe worse referees”, a reference to the performance of Robertson which had drawn such stinging criticism from his manager, the player in complete agreement with Lennon.
His own particular grievance was he felt he should have won a foul when dispossessed by Accies Dougie Imrie in the lead-up to Hamilton’s equaliser, the ball being fed to former Hearts winger David Templeton, who supplied a cross for Antonio Rojano to steer a superb header beyond goalkeeper Ofir Marciano.
The fact the home side had done so came as a shock to everyone who had travelled from Edinburgh, Hibs having dominated the game to the extent they enjoyed 61 per cent possession, had nine shots on target to Hamilton’s one and 11 corners while Accies didn’t force a single one. At that point, although Martin Canning’s players had made more of a game of it than they had in the opening 45 minutes when Hibs had them pinned down inside their own half for long spells, the Easter Road side looked the more likely to add to the lead Simon Murray’s 14th goal of the season had given them.
Accies goalkeeper Gary Woods, who had tipped over a John McGinn piledriver in the first half, twice used his legs, blocking a shot from Martin Boyle and then a downward header from Steven Whittaker which left the Hibs defender shaking his head in disbelief before getting down to touch Lewis Stevenson’s deflected shot to safety.
Bartley, though, was adamant Murray’s strike should have been enough to win it, claiming Imrie had “blocked” him off rather than attempt to play the ball at that game-changing moment. He said: “He’s not tried to play the ball in my eyes – the ref said he played the ball.
“But, after the goal, their player said he thought I was going to break so he just tried to block me off.”
Lennon, too, felt the decision had gone against Bartley but it was just one incident among many which left him livid. He said: “There was one team trying to play football and the other team trying to kick the cr*p out of the opposition.
“We got no protection at all. We’re going to lose John McGinn. Either he goes to England or he ends up in hospital. The quality of the tackling was absolutely disgraceful. How they ended up with eleven players on the pitch is beyond me.
“At our goal, two of them tried to take [Brandon] Barker out with no attempt to play the ball. The referee should have booked them. The tackle on McGinn at the end was disgraceful.
“I’m very frustrated, but not with my team. I thought they were brilliant on a very difficult pitch against a team who made no attempt to play the right way.
“The referee was completely out of his depth. We’re going back to the 1950s. I like hard men, But anyone can kick people. They were taking swipes at us at any opportunity. It’s caveman stuff.” Imrie, one of five Hamilton players to be booked and one of those who had tried to trip Barker as he used his searing pace to set up Murray’s goal, naturally disagreed with Lennon’s claims, arguing that he and his team-mates simply got much closer to their opponents after the interval.
He said: “That’s his opinion. You know you are in a game against us. We don’t try to give teams a minute to try and play.
“All credit to Hibs in the first half, they did well and passed the ball. But I thought in the second half when we changed the shape and went man-for-man, the game changed in our favour. There were a few niggly tackles in the game, but I think against these type of teams you have to be up tight against your man. If you allow teams like that to play they’ll kill you. I don’t think we are over-physical, we just go out and play the game.
“Don’t get me wrong, they had good chances in the game and they’re probably thinking it was two points dropped for them and that’s maybe why they didn’t win the game and are saying we were over-aggressive.”