Neil Lennon has urged his mis-firing players to find the goals to aid Hibs’ final push for the Championship title.
The Easter Road side edged closer to automatic promotion as they were held to a draw by Dunfermline – the 12th time this season they’ve had a league match end in stalemate – cutting their lead over second-placed Falkirk to nine points.
With only five matches remaining and third-placed Morton 11 points adrift after their defeat by Dumbarton, it appears inconceivable that the Capital club will be overhauled.
But, admitted Lennon, his side have made it hard for themselves and a lack of goals is a concern. As he succeeded Alan Stubbs as Hibs boss last summer, Lennon cited the paucity of goals, just 59 scored in 36 league games, as a major factor in the club’s failure to win promotion.
However, Hibs’ 31 league games so far this season have yielded a mere 47 goals with the recurring complaint from Lennon that his players need to convert a greater ratio of the chances they create.
Jason Cummings has again shouldered the burden, 16 of the 21-year-old’s 20 goals coming in the league with Martin Boyle a distant second with seven while fellow strikers Grant Holt and Brian Graham have managed just seven between them, Holt’s last at the end of October and Graham’s in mid-December.
On this occasion, it was Graham who was the fall guy, somehow missing from only a few yards out at the start of the second half with Hibs ahead through John McGinn’s superb strike, his fourth league goal of the season.
A second at that stage would probably have wrapped things up as far as Lennon’s players were concerned and taken them a long way towards finally clinching the title.
“Brian will probably say he hasn’t played enough,” said Lennon. “But he should tap that in and then it is game over. I don’t know how he has missed it.”
Instead, Dunfermline hauled themselves level, assistant referee Willie Ferguson bringing the fact the ball, at least in his judgment, had hit the hand of Lewis Stevenson to the attention of match official Greg Aitken with Kallum Higginbotham firing home the equaliser from the penalty spot.
One of a number of debatable decisions made in the eyes of Lennon, who was clearly annoyed to see Dylan McGeouch booked for diving when he appeared to have been tripped while, naturally, Pars boss Allan Johnston had a slightly different take on the penalty, saying: “I didn’t have a really good view, but you can’t put your hands up there so I can see why the ref has given it.”
Lennon, though, insisted it was yet another chance lost. He said: “I was disappointed not to have won the game – we were in total control. We’re closer to the title. We are dragging it out but we will keep going.
“We’ve got to score goals. Jason has done brilliantly, Martin has chipped in, but the rest need to look at themselves and ask ‘have I done enough?’.”
Defender Darren McGregor echoed his manager’s words, saying: “We are well aware of the amount of games we have drawn. But actions speak louder than words. It’s up to us to go into these games and get the three points as opposed to drawing.
“It’s a team game and we are well aware we could be doing better in the goals department. John scored a terrific goal and Jason has got half our goal tally. There are goals in this team and maybe we never got the rub of the green, but there will be no-one more disappointed than Brian that he never scored.
“It’s something we need to work on and hopefully it will turn.”
McGregor revealed he and his team-mates were aware that Morton, who started the day as their closest rivals – although they were overtaken as Falkirk beat Raith Rovers – were losing at Dumbarton and revealed: “That was a massive incentive for us.
“It’s really frustrating because of the amount of games we have drawn. That’s 12 now and we need to start turning them into wins. We have a gap, but we are well aware that could change, so we should be winning these games.
“Credit to Dunfermline, they pressed us well. I thought the penalty was a bit dubious. Lewis said it brushed his hand.
“But the lino [the assistant referee] said it was in an unnatural position. However, if you have ever played the game, it’s quite common for your hands to go like that. He wasn’t coming out like Superman.
“It is what it is. We just have to take it on the chin. I still think we did enough to win the game. It’s a point gained over Morton but Falkirk won. We just need to keep winning.”
Hibs were forced into a late reshuffle of their team at East End Park when defender Paul Hanlon, just back after almost three months out through injury, was forced to pull out when the nerve problem which had troubled him in the latter stages of his lay-off flared up again.
Hanlon’s name was actually on the teamsheet, but Brian McLean was promoted from the bench to make his debut as he partnered McGregor in central defence with teenager Fraser Murray listed among the substitutes.
Lennon, who has Jordon Forster out for three or four weeks with a shoulder injury following that reckless lunge by Morton’s Kudus Oyenuga last midweek, said: “Losing Paul was a blow but Brian was excellent, he put in a good, experienced, composed performance.
“It was frustrating because Paul was in the plans before the game.”
McLean was a fourth defensive partner of the season for McGregor, who is hoping his appeal against the red card shown to him in that melee which marred the end of the Morton game will be upheld, allowing him to face Jim Duffy’s side at Cappielow on Saturday.
He said: “We seem to have picked up some knocks and niggles but Brian came in and did well, Efe Ambrose can go in there too, so there are options.”