Hibs reaction: Neil Lennon lambasts lack of mental strength

The Hibs defenders react as Lewis Moult celebrates after scoring his second goal. Pic: SNS
The Hibs defenders react as Lewis Moult celebrates after scoring his second goal. Pic: SNS
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Although, ultimately, Hibs took the Championship title with some degree of comfort, an astonishing 14 draws in their 36 matches kept the chasing pack interested until the closing weeks of the season.

Boss Neil Lennon agreed his team’s inability to turn a fair proportion of those stalemates into victories wasn’t good enough, and today he is faced with the same scenario, Hibs having drawn their last three matches when they could have been making an early impact in the top half of the Premiership.

Sometimes, of course, a point can be regarded as a reasonable return and, in a strange way, that was the case on this occasion, even if the home team could be accused of throwing away a two-goal lead.

Those strikes, a contentious first-half penalty from Anthony Stokes and an opportunistic effort from the Republic of Ireland internationalist, had put Hibs ahead for the first time this season and, seemingly, on course for a win despite looking far from comfortable throughout the match.

It was a vulnerability which Motherwell manager Stephen Robinson sensed, telling his players at half-time that even though they were trailing, they hadn’t done much wrong.

Robinson said: “There wasn’t a lot I needed to say to encourage them because they felt they were still in the game. Even at 2-0 down they didn’t stop believing.”

And when you have Louis Moult in your side there is, as Motherwell skipper Carl McHugh insisted, no reason to give up, the midfielder saying: “He’s priceless, he could have had four goals.”

Two goals were enough to salvage a point for Motherwell and to prevent Hibs leapfrogging them in the table. Moult, who had seen a first-half effort crash back off the crossbar, stealing in to nod home Craig Tanner’s free-kick and then rolling Efe Ambrose to drill a low shot beyond goalkeeper Ofir Marciano to make it five in his last four games and seven for the season.

Only some desperate defending ensured all three points weren’t surrendered as Lennon’s players all but fell out of the game entirely.

Lennon left them in no doubt as to how he felt, awarding only Stokes, John McGinn and Brandon Barker pass marks as he turned his ire on his back four and Marciano although, he insisted, there were others who needed to reproduce the form they show in training when it matters.

“It’s a total lack of mental strength,” claimed Lennon. “Ambrose and [Paul] Hanlon are experienced players at this level but they didn’t look it today. Neither did my two full-backs.

“You can have all the ability in the world, you can be good trainers – and I’m not just singling out my back four. I’ve got some players who look really good in training, but can’t replicate it in games.

“It’s not a major problem. It’s not an ordeal we are going through. We haven’t won in four games but we are scoring goals. We just need to do better defensively as a unit.

“I don’t think we looked comfortable defensively all day. That’s something the players will have to get to grips with because it’s a physical league at times.

“I don’t think Motherwell are overly physical. They are decent, but they’ve got good spirit about them and they’ve got good strikers.

“We should be more than capable of going 2-0 up and winning the game. You only have to keep a clean sheet. I repeatedly tell them about defending set plays properly and we haven’t done it.

“But they need a hand from the goalkeeper now and again and that was missing.”

Israeli internationalist Marciano, who looked uncertain throughout the game, was particularly culpable for the first goal insisted Lennon, who said: “It was pathetic.

“The fact that Moult is free for a start – but my goalkeeper has to come and take it. He’s three yards out and he turns his back on it, so I am not happy.

“The second goal is embarrassing in terms of people diving in, giving themselves up, getting rolled and then my goalkeeper gets beaten at his near post.

“But it was coming, we were asking for it. We gave them all the warnings, we told them at half-time. If they are not big enough to take responsibility on the pitch then I’ll have to change it – and I will.”

In that regard, however, Lennon finds his hands tied. Both Darren McGregor and Liam Fontaine have undergone surgery, leaving only 18-year-old Ryan Porteous as cover in central defence, although he does have the option of restoring the solid and dependable Lewis Stevenson at left-back where Whittaker looks out of place. Given his stinging criticism of Marciano, few would be surprised if back-up keeper Ross Laidlaw is given an opportunity in tomorrow night’s Betfred Cup tie against Livingston.

And Stokes said that quarter-final was the ideal opportunity to provide Lennon and the fans with the reaction they’ll be looking for.

He said: “We respond by winning the next game. We win that and we are back at Hampden again. So we need to get the Motherwell game out of our minds, while learning from it, and move swiftly on to that game.”

And having worked under Lennon at Celtic, Stokes admitted he was well aware of exactly how his boss was feeling.

He said: “He has high expectations, he wants to win games. It must be so frustrating for him sitting there and watching us let a game get away from us. I had felt we were fully in control, you would like to think we could see it out.

“We put ourselves in a great position and then just lost grip of the game. We can’t dwell on it too long – but we need to learn from it.”