Hibs boss Neil Lennon admitted even he was surprised at how quickly his new-look strikeforce of Anthony Stokes and Simon Murray hit it off after they claimed three of the Easter Road outfit’s five goals as they romped into the last eight of the Betfred Cup.
Stokes scored twice and set up Murray for his ninth goal of the season before Efe Ambrose and Lithuanian striker Deivydas Matulevicius sealed an easy win over League One side Ayr United.
And, after resting Steven Whittaker and Paul Hanlon, Lennon admitted he has a bit of thinking to do ahead of Saturday’s Premiership match against Rangers at Ibrox, the first time the clubs have met since Hibs’ Scottish Cup triumph over the Glasgow side 14 months ago. However, determined to take Hibs as far as possible in the League Cup, Lennon insisted the most important aspect to last night’s victory was claiming that place in the quarter-finals.
He said: “We are playing well. On paper, it was a difficult one, but we negotiated it very well. I was delighted with the goals, delighted with the shape of the team and the attitude of the players.”
Lennon admitted, though, that seeing Stokes and Murray – paired together for the first time – work well together was a real bonus.
He said: “It surprised me that they seemed to dovetail quite quickly. Stokes showed some nice touches considering that was his first run out for a while so to come through the game with two goals and an assist was great.
“He was enjoying himself. The third was a great goal. We needed that because we got sloppy for ten minutes but the third goal opened things up again.”
It was, in fact, Stokes’ first start since playing in an EFL Cup tie for Blackburn Rovers against Crewe last August and, predicted Lennon, the 29-year-old will simply get better. He said: “He will get stronger. He’s a naturally fit boy. He is very rarely injured so it’s great he got the 90 and a couple of goals. That’s what he is here for. I feel he is playing in right position and he will cause teams trouble when he is in the mood.”
Lennon was delighted to have negotiated the match with no further injuries, midfield enforcer Marvin Bartley his only doubt for the weekend. He said: “Some players got important game time such as Stokes, Slivka got a run out as did Davie Gray and Darren McGregor so we are in a good place.
“I saw Rangers at Motherwell on Sunday. A great win there. I have not been to Ibrox for a few years so I’m looking forward to it very much.”