Hibs reaction: Lennon's team must get over '˜mental block'
We've been here plenty of times with Hibs. Left scratching our heads as to exactly how the Easter Road side have managed to let vital points slip through their fingers.
Chances aplenty – almost two thirds of the ball over the 90 minutes and three times as many shots at goal as their opponents and, yet, have precious little to show for it.
Yes, Neil Lennon’s players had shown character for the second weekend in succession to battle back from going behind to claim an equaliser as Raith Rovers mounted a gallant backs-to-the-wall bid to hold onto the lead gained through Jean-Yves M’Voto’s early second-half header, Martin Boyle striking just as it looked as if all three points were heading back across the Forth.
But, in all honesty, M’Voto’s goal, even coming as it did in the 49th minute of the game, should have been no more than a consolation for Gary Locke’s outfit.
With Dylan McGeouch back in the Hibs team following an ankle injury and pulling the strings in the middle of the park, chance after chance was created only for each to go abegging.
Three times McGeouch played in team-mates. Striker Grant Holt failing to anticipate his pass, Raith goalkeeper Kevin Cuthbert pulling off a decent save as Jason Cummings got on the end of another and then Andrew Shinnie taking a horrible first touch when put through by the midfielder.
Kris Commons, who otherwise had a quietish home debut before being replaced by James Keatings as things became every more desperate for the Capital side, went close with a low shot and Cuthbert had to look smart to push another Cummings effort round the post.
There were other half-openings but, even so as the fans headed for their cuppa at the interval, the over-riding belief was it would be simply a matter of time before they saw a goal.
They weren’t wrong but, as they settled back into their seats anticipating a little touch of Christmas joy, they were left stunned, Chris Johnston left unopposed as he lifted a cross into Hibs penalty area where M’Voto, unmarked, was waiting to direct his header beyond the grasping hand of goalkeeper Ross Laidlaw.
“We did warn the players at half-time that even athough we were on top, it’s 0-0 and we had to concentrate,” revealed an exasperated Lennon.
“But we conceded a poor goal. Then we got ragged.”
Keatings, Boyle and Brian Graham were all thrown on to add to Hibs’ firepower, leaving the game, according to Lennon, like “the Alamo” as his side frenetically sought a way back into the match.
But, with M’Voto and his fellow central defender Kyle Benedictus willing to throw themselves in front of anything, Raith looked like holding firm until Boyle found just enough space to drill a low shot past Cuthbert to relieve a little of the tension although the home support already knew by that time that Hibs, at the top of the Championship table since October 15, had been knocked off their perch by title rivals Dundee United’s 2-1 win over basement side St Mirren.
“We could have won two games with the amount of chances and possession we had,” claimed Lennon – and few would have argued with him.
“We’ve had 21 attempts at goal. It was like the Alamo at the end. And that sums up the day, really.
“It’s not as if we are not playing well. The first half we were excellent but, when you are on top, you have to take your chances.”
When it was put to him that this had become a recurring theme for Hibs, Lennon pointed out it had been so “for a while” and would no doubt have found the watching John Doolan nodding his head in agreement, former boss Alan Stubbs’ first-team coach having witnessed many such scenarios during his time in Edinburgh.
That said, Lennon insisted it wasn’t a great worry at the minute but, having insisted when he first arrived that a major factor behind Hibs’ failure to win promotion last season had been the fact they’d only scored 59 goals in 36 matches, he will certainly be looking for a better return of 30 from 18 in the second half of the season. He said: “We have to get past and get over that mental block. I wouldn’t say it’s a major concern at the minute but, if we keep dropping points, it will be.
“We don’t want to make too much of an issue of it, but we just need to show more composure in front of goal.”
While naturally disappointed to be knocked off the top of the table by a United side which has put together a run of 12 matches unbeaten in the league – and nine of them wins – while his side struggles to find their earlier season consistency, Lennon said: “I’m not sure they needed a kick up the backside.
“I’ve got to look at the performance. Did we play well? Yes. Did we create chances? Yes. Plenty.
“But we need to score when we are on top because if we had scored early on we would probably have won the game comfortably.
“I’m looking at us and I think we look good, but we need to score when we are on top. We didn’t deal with that cross well enough and then we had to chase the game. But we showed enough resilience to come back.”
Raith boss Locke was disappointed not to have held on for the win, claiming that after the first 20 or 25 minutes his players had grown into the game and “deserved to go in front”.
He added: “You are always going to be under a bit of pressure here. And that’s what Hibs did. They have a lot of quality throughout their squad and you saw the changes they made, putting on Keatings, Boyle and the big boy Graham.
“We’re disappointed with a point, but it’s not too bad a result for us.”