Aberdeen clash is a six-pointer in race for third, claims Hibs midfielder Nohan Kenneh
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The Easter Road midfielder, who has started all but three of his side’s league matches to date as he gets to grips with his first season of senior football, has urged his team-mates to build on the 3-0 victory over St Mirren last weekend when they meet Jim Goodwin’s charges for the second time this campaign. The 19-year-old played a key role in the victory with an impressive showing at the base of midfield that in turn allowed Joe Newell to run the show in midfield. Rocky Bushiri might have won the man-of-the-match award for his performance at the heart of defence but the midfield pair shone as the hosts won the battle in the middle of the park.
“I feel like before the World Cp break we’re trying to gain momentum. We won our last game and we’ll try to win this one – for us, these kind of games are pivotal,” Kenneh said, speaking ahead of the trip to the Granite City. Aberdeen have a game in hand on Hibs but picking up maximum points would give Hibs a cushion going into next Tuesday night’s home game against Ross County.
“These are six-pointers but first and foremost we want to win the game, and so do they. We know it will be difficult. I think they have pace up top, they are quite dynamic on the counter, and we need to make sure in the transitions that we know what we need to do,” he added.
It would be easy to forget that Hibs came from behind to win the last meeting between the two teams, a Martin Boyle penalty on the stroke of half-time cancelling out Luis ‘Duk’ Lopes’ early header and a Josh Campbell brace in the second period resulting in an emphatic win, given the fall-out. Goodwin accused Ryan Porteous of cheating in a bid to win the penalty, which resulted in a second yellow card and subsequent red for defender Liam Scales, and incurred a bumper touchline ban from the Scottish FA that was only made more lenient on appeal earlier this week.
“There was a lot of talk and media coverage,” Kenneh agrees. “I don’t want to go too deep, I know Porto as a player and as a person and I feel like there is a lot of misjudgement in how people see him. If you work with him day in and day out you know how good a professional he is and I feel like sometimes people don’t see that.”
The perceived bad feeling between the two teams might well give Hibs extra incentive to get a result in the north-east at a venue that has not been too kind on them in recent history. A red card shown to Porteous on his last visit to Pittodrie coupled with the last match may mean a hostile welcome for the 23-year-old and his team-mates.
"I have only been here a few months but from all I am seeing, he made his Scotland debut and was one of the best players on the pitch and there were still people saying like, ‘he didn’t do this,’ but I feel like he’s a good player and a good professional.
"He’s going to handle whatever happens on Friday. He’s a good professional and he’s been in Scottish football long enough, he’s used to the attention. He has to focus on himself and try and help us win the game. He doesn’t really think too much about the outside noise, or social media. I’m close to him and sit next to him and he does not like to focus on those things. But, as a human being, everyone is going to be affected.”
Kenneh has been impressed by Porteous since joining the Capital club from Leeds in the summer and says his experienced team-mate has helped him settle into the Scottish game.
“We are always speaking; I’m a more defensive-minded midfield player so he is telling me where I need to be. His leadership is really good. He is one of the most vocal.”
Meanwhile, manager Lee Johnson has urged his players to replicate their performance against St Mirren in the fourth-versus-third tussle. The Easter Road boss has stressed the need for his side to keep going until the end and cope well with ‘plot twists’.
"We've talked about needing a '96-minute game' [where we keep going until the very end] every week. We've had a lot of games where we've shown our potential in spells but we've shown at times that we couldn't cope, or haven't coped well with what we call plot twists,” he said.
"I stand by the point that we're not finished; it's never finished. We've got a lot of evolving to do, we've got a lot of development in us and a lot of potential. I have to make sure that the lads have the mentality that every day, they are coming in here with the will to want to be better and trust the process that that's what gets you results.”
Johnson makes no secret of his interest in analysis and regularly crunches the numbers for expected goals (xG) and ball recoveries but insists it is all part of his bid to turn Hibs into a consistently strong-performing team.
"You know I'm a big, avid watcher of data and stats and stuff like that and that's not because I'm trying to justify everything; it's because I believe that if you do the right things and continue to do them then the results will come to you. In any one game, I can't promise anything because there are so many variables in the game of football.
"But I can promise a consistency of what we're trying to do and how we're trying to work.”