Neil Lennon has admitted he had half an eye on this Saturday’s Championship clash with Queen of the South when he chose his team to begin Hibs’ defence of the Scottish Cup against junior outfit Bonnyrigg Rose.
The Easter Road boss made six changes to his starting line-up to the side which had defeated Dumbarton seven days earlier to take them six points clear at the top of the table, giving the likes of James Keatings, Andrew Shinnie and Jordon Forster much-needed game time while key midfielders John McGinn and Fraser Fyvie continued their comebacks from lengthy injury lay-offs in the 8-1 win.
But, while Lennon is adamant the Capital side won’t loosen their grip on a trophy it took them 114 years to win, promotion at the third time of asking remains very much his over-riding concern this season.
As the first Hibs manager to be defending a Scottish Cup triumph since 1902, Lennon agreed the demolition of Bonnyrigg had underlined Hibs’ determination to hang onto it as long as possible, adding: “Regardless of the Championship being our priority, we put out a strong team, We are the holders and we want to defend it.”
However, with Queen of the South putting together a run of just one defeat in their last seven games under new boss Gary Naysmith – the Palmerston Park outfit enjoying a 2-1 win away to Dumbarton at the weekend – Lennon revealed the pending trip to Dumfries had been in his thoughts before the cup tie.
He said: “Queens have come into a bit of form. Gary has gone in there and really steadied them.
“They had a great start to the season but then seemed to lose their way a bit but they’ve steadied themselves and we know the danger they can be from earlier in the season.”
Hibs’ win over Bonnyrigg was their fourth in a row but Lennon cautioned against getting carried away, saying: “Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Every game is difficult. We are on a good run but we have to keep on top of things. There’s a long way to go.”
While Lennon has begun his search for a back-up goalkeeper to Ross Laidlaw with Israeli internationalist Ofir Marciano having suffered a cracked rib in what was his return to action after a knee operation, he revealed striker Jason Cummings was replaced by Martin Boyle at Tynecastle for fear his top scorer might aggravate an injury.
The 21-year-old, who was on a hat-trick, was clearly unhappy at that move, but Lennon insisted: “Jason was limping. He was a bit sore and we didn’t want to take any chances as the game was done.”
• Hibs’ Under-20 side resume their SPFL Development League campaign when they face St Mirren at East Mains tomorrow (kick-off 1pm). Meanwhile, the young Hibees will face Motherwell at home in the Scottish Youth Cup semi-finals should they overcome Celtic in the last eight. Kilmarnock will host Rangers in the other semi.