Hibs boss admits Aberdeen are the benchmark for his team

Hibs head coach Neil Lennon
Hibs head coach Neil Lennon
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Neil Lennon has admitted Aberdeen are what he wants Hibs to be – a formidable side home and away.

The Easter Road outfit go into tomorrow’s Premiership match against the Dons seeking not only to end a run of three straight wins for Derek McInnes’ players but to trim the second-placed side’s current eight-point advantage over them.

Aberdeen's Gary Mackay-Steven, right, and Adam Rooney will be a big danger at Easter Road

Aberdeen's Gary Mackay-Steven, right, and Adam Rooney will be a big danger at Easter Road

Lennon berated his squad after they stumbled to a 4-1 defeat at Pittodrie before Christmas although he later confessed he’d perhaps been over critical of their performance in what was their fifth game in just 13 days.

However, he believes the memory of that day in the Granite City will act as an incentive as his side return to action following an enforced break, one which came at the end of another hectic period of games, four of which were played away from home.

The rest has allowed central defenders Paul Hanlon and Darren McGregor to recover from the injuries which saw them sit out the 2-1 win over Rangers at Ibrox as Hibs continued their impressive form since the winter break.

The Hibs boss admitted he worried about the effect being knocked out of the Scottish Cup by arch-rivals Hearts might have had but since then they’ve bounced back with victories over Dundee and Motherwell prior to their trip to Govan, a run which has seen them retain their grip on fourth place in the table.

Lennon said: “I’m delighted with the way it’s going but there’s still a lot of football to be played. But what really pleased me was the run we put together after the winter break.

“Psychologically, losing the cup game might have damaged them, but they have gone the other way and reinforced the league position with some great wins and performances, culminating with a fantastic win at Ibrox.

“They looked dead on their feet, but they’ve had a bit of recovery now and I think they are all looking forward to what should be a cracking game of football. Both teams like to get the ball forward, both like to attack and I think we are in for a sell-out, which is brilliant.”

A Gary Mackay-Steven goal was enough to take the three points last time Aberdeen were at Easter Road, the Dons forward then claiming a hat-trick as McInnes’ team brushed Hibs aside 4-1 on their own patch with a display which Lennon rates as probably the best he’s seen against Hibs this season.

He said: “We played well against them here and there wasn’t much in the game, just one real moment of quality. But the game at Pittodrie, I wouldn’t say it was a lesson, but we were well beaten.

“They might want to put that right. The context of the game is we want to close the gap on third and second place and I think that’s the butt of what we are talking about rather than what has gone on previously.”

However, having said that, Lennon acknowledged the quality of McInnes’ team, saying: “They have been building this for three or four years. They have had a bit of investment, they haven’t spent millions, but Derek has got good players in, they do have strength in depth, a little bit more than us, and our challenge, if we can, is to get to that level on a more consistent basis.

“They’ve got goals from midfield, they have goals from wide areas, goals from strikers.

“Particularly at home they are a very formidable side. And away from home when they played us they were unbeaten in 12 games as well so you can see the consistency he has brought there.

“They had a good win last week, they had a good win the previous week, they’re a formidable opponent at this level.”

Lennon’s own squad underwent a makeover during the January transfer window and, he admitted, he’s happy with the way it is shaping up with strikers Florian Kamberi and Jamie Maclaren arriving alongside goalkeeper Cammy Bell while midfelder Scott Allan has returned to Easter Road for a second spell.

He said: “The new boys have really hit the ground running, which is pleasantly pleasing. Kamberi has been excellent in the two games, Maclaren had a great performance at Ibrox and Scott, who was playing well at Dundee, had a great second debut.

“We also have Cammy in there who is very experienced so the squad is looking stronger, and obviously with Paul and Darren coming back the timing is good.”

Although he admits tomorrow will be a test, Lennon insisted he has no worries about his players rising to the challenge, saying: “The core of this team has been superb for this club over the past couple of years.

“We’ve kept it together and allied to that we have added some decent players as well. Some are still finding their feet because they are just in the door, but the players who have been here for the last two or three years have done spectacular things for the club and nothing fazes them at the minute.

“I don’t think you can question their character or their temperament in my time here. Any time we have had an adverse result they have bounced back really well.

“They were asked a lot at Ibrox, particularly in the second half, Rangers were playing well, they had new players and they are on the up. But I thought for an hour we were superb and with the chances we had in the first half, we could have been out of sight. To go and play that well at Ibrox takes some doing.

“Aberdeen, though, are a different animal, strong and athletic all over the pitch.”