Brandon Barker admitted Hibs’ burning desire to win cost them a vital point against St Johnstone.
Level thanks to Anthony Stokes’ last-minute penalty, the Easter Road side suffered their first defeat in five matches as Saints’ Steven MacLean snatched a winner three minutes into added-on time.
However, the on-loan Manchester City kid – who came off in the second half – believes his team-mates should have settled for a draw rather than going all-out for a winner themselves, Stokes having cancelled out Murray Davidson’s opener for the Perth outfit.
“They were shouting that, but the mentality the boys have is that when we scored you saw everyone running to try and get the ball and to go for the win,” he said.
“That’s a great mentality to have, but when there’s two minutes left everyone knows we should have taken the draw, got the point on the board and be ready to go again next week.
“It was a horrible way to lose the game. We should have seen it out and got a point, but we went for the win. Maybe that was the wrong decision ... we should have sat off and taken the draw.”
As it turned out, the defeat – the third Hibs have endured at home in the Premiership this season – did Neil Lennon’s side no real harm, second-placed Aberdeen losing at Pittodrie to Motherwell while Rangers, a point behind the Capital club, slumped to a surprise defeat by Hamilton at Ibrox.
Barker, though, acknowledged the flip side of those results was that he and his team-mates had passed up a chance in facing a side which had taken just a single point from their previous six league games - and without scoring a goal - to leapfrog the Dons and also open up a handy four-point cushion on Rangers.
The 21-year-old said: “We were lucky as the other scores helped us out. But it was a missed opportunity. We want to be as high as possible and we had a big chance to go second.
“The other teams lost, it was our chance in a game we dominated and probably should have won it.”
In saying that, Barker admitted Lennon’s players rarely looked as if they could get out of second gear, this performance a stark contrast to the vibrant, energetic displays prior to the international break in which they had clocked up four wins on the bounce.
In many ways this game resembled those of the Championship in which Hibs inevitably faced sides reluctant to commit too much to attack, content to sit in and hope to hit on the break. It was a tactic which worked for a number of them and, given Saints’ recent history, few would begrudge McDiarmid Park boss Tommy Wright trying to ensure that his players, at least, didn’t lose again.
As such, Hibs saw plenty of the ball but little of Saints goalkeeper Zander Clark, a clutch of long-range shots as much as Lennon’s side could muster while they were happy to see their own No.1 Ofir Marciano tip a netbound shot from former Easter Road captain Liam Craig onto the bar.
The longer the game went, though, the more you could sense the visitors believing their might be something more than a point for them, although it did take the outstretched boot of Clark to prevent Simon Murray – like his fellow striker Stokes, quiet throughout – redirecting Efe Ambrose’ effort into the bottom corner.
Incredibly, 620 minutes had elapsed since Davidson had claimed a late winner over Hamilton, that coming at the end of September and to add a bit of symmetry, it was the same player to break that drought, nodding home as substitute Graham Cummins turned Craig’s cross back into the danger area.
Stokes’ penalty, awarded when Martin Boyle’s shot struck the arm of Joe Shaugnessy, soothed the nerves of the home fans somewhat, only for them to be driven to the depths of despair by what Lennon insisted was the highly avoidable loss of that second goal, the Hibs boss pointing to a couple of poor decisions and a couple of players slipping at the vital moment.
Given the way in which the match was lost, few would have been surprised, least of all the players as they headed for the dressing room no doubt with a sense of trepidation as to what might be awaiting them, if Lennon had given them both barrels as he has in the past.
However, they were spared the “hair-dryer treatment”, as Barker revealed. He said: “Obviously any team that loses like that, it’s a horrible feeling. But he knows we know. It’s a game we should win at home, but they came and made it difficult for us.
“It’s always difficult to play against them, but it did feel a bit flat. We weren’t moving the ball as quick as we’re used to, but hopefully next week we’ll be sharp again and put it right.”
Lennon had expressed a concern in the days before this match that the two-week lull in action might rob his players of the head of steam they’d been building but at the same time welcomed it as a chance to allow a number of them to recover from the injuries which had reduced his squad to just 15 fit enough to pull on a jersey.
But having seen his worry realised, he insisted he wasn’t going to be over-critical of his players, saying: “There was a flatness about us and I can understand it. It’s been a fragmented couple of weeks with players being away and others being out injured, some needing a rest.
“We were okay, we weren’t brilliant and you have to respect the opposition. Maybe Rangers and Aberdeen were in the same boat as us. It can be difficult to really find your rhythm in the first game after an international break.
“I don’t think we deserved to lose it, but I don’t think we deserved to win either. I was pleased with the character we showed after we conceded, but to lose the second goal in the manner we did was really disappointing.”