One nil to Hibernian may not quite have the same ring as in the days of the George Graham era at Highbury when Arsenal fans greeted another narrow win in such fashion.
But, for the moment at least, it’s doing the trick for Hibs, two 1-0 wins in the space of five days against Capital rivals Hearts and, now, high-flying Motherwell, lifting Neil Lennon’s players comfortably into the Premiership’s top six.
Again, though, as Lennon insisted, they should have been enjoying a far more comfortable victory than that earned at Fir Park thanks to the opportunism of Martin Boyle, the forward anticipating Cedric Kipre missing a high ball and then using his blistering pace to get in ahead of goalkeeper Trevor Carson to prod home the game’s only goal.
Boyle said: “The wind was playing havoc and I think he just misjudged it. There could have been a big collision with the goalkeeper but I got my big toe on it and then tapped it in.”
One was enough in the end, although Lennon felt a second-half strike from Simon Murray which was ruled out for offside – John McGinn later confirming having watched it again that his team-mate was level with the last defender – should have stood, while both Barker and John McGinn had decent chances to soothe the touchline nerves.
“I’m sounding like a broken-down record,” sighed the Hibs boss. “We deserved the win, we were the better team by far, but my only criticism is that we should have been home and hosed.
“We are missing good chances, we are dominating games and this time we forced Motherwell to change their shape because we were in total control.
“But we shouldn’t have had to see the game out as uncomfortably as that. We are just a little bit lightweight in front of goal.”
Match-winner Boyle agreed, saying: “I think that’s been the story of the season. We have been playing really well but not scoring a lot of goals. We’ve picked up a few wins, but we are not scoring as much as we should – and I am included in that.
“We’ve been a bit lacking in that department. One goal proved to be the winner again, but with the number of chances we create in a game we need to put more away.”
However, Boyle and his manager’s opinions diverged when the player was asked if he’d take another 1-0 at Rugby Park tomorrow night when a win would take Hibs even higher in the table.
“I’d take it for the rest of the season,” he replied, “but I don’t think the manager would be happy.”
As in the derby a few days earlier, Hibs dominated for long spells, Boyle and Barker, who had caused Hearts so many problems with their pace in the wide areas, deployed in different fashion this time round.
Boyle took up station alongside Simon Murray in the front line, the ploy of using his speed to get in behind Motherwell’s back three paying an obvious dividend, while Barker was positioned at the tip of a midfield diamond, able to come at the opposition from that deeper area.
But, again, it was the midfield triumvirate of Marvin Bartley, McGinn and Dylan McGeouch which took the game by the throat, the presence of Bartley in front of the back four giving his team-mates licence to get forward while ensuring the supply to the Steelmen’s striker’s Louis Moult and Ryan Bowman was throttled to the extent that neither was offered a genuine glimpse of Ofir Marciano’s goal throughout the entire 90 minutes.
Moult, of course, had scored a double to salvage a point for Stephen Robinson’s side earlier in the season, but the fact he was negated in such fashion was, insisted McGinn, down to the vastly under-rated Paul Hanlon who, he claimed should have impressed interim Scotland manager Malky Mackay sufficiently enough as he watched the derby triumph to see him included in the squad for next week’s friendly with Holland.
The Scotland midfielder said: “We’ve been doing brilliantly all season at the back. Paul is one of the best defenders in the country. He’s been brilliant for a long time and it’s about time he is recognised.
“He is, perhaps, not the biggest size-wise, but he makes up for it with his brain and speed. He is just miles ahead of everyone on the pitch.”
Pointing out that in the last few weeks Hanlon has dealt with the threat of Aberdeen’s Adam Rooney, Hearts Northern Ireland striker Kyle Lafferty and now Moult, McGinn added: “The manager [Scotland interim boss Malky Mackay] was at Easter Road the other night watching and there’s no way he could have left not seeing what Paul can do. It’s a question of when, not if.”
Lennon wasn’t happy with some of the treatment dished out to his players, feeling McGinn in particular was singled out but, insisted Boyle, it was nothing he and his team-mates couldn’t cope with.
The former Montrose and Dundee man said: “We are a little team, little guys who get bundled over. We get bullied about, I was getting thrown about but you don’t want to see anyone booked or sent off.
“Some of the tackles last Tuesday were a bit naughty, but you expect that in a derby. It nothing we want to complain about, you just get on with it unless it is deemed dangerous.”
Hibs complete a taxing period of four games in ten days when they travel to Kilmarnock tomorrow night seeking to win three Premiership matches for the first time in almost four years. But while claiming a third successive win would make other teams “sit up and take notice”, McGinn admitted Hibs face not only the difficulties the artificial surface at Rugby Park presents but a Killie side buoyed by the arrival of new manager Steve Clarke and successive draws at Ibrox and Celtic Park, although they remain level on points with basement side Dundee at the foot of the table.
He said: “I’m not a fan of artificial surfaces, but it is what it is. You have to adapt to it. It’s the same for both teams and I think if you ask the Killie players they would prefer to play on grass.
“Killie have a good squad with a lot of experience and a manager who has been with top clubs in England. It will be a test, but if we play to our best I’m confident we can get the three points.”