Hibs reaction: Scott Allan was the key in defeat of Aberdeen

Scott Allan put in an impressive display for Hibs. Pic: SNS
Scott Allan put in an impressive display for Hibs. Pic: SNS
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Many scoffed when Neil Lennon declared his ambition for the season was to see Hibs finish second in the Premiership.

Fanciful? Perhaps given the Easter Road side had just returned to the top flight of Scottish football after a three-year exile in the Championship.

Hibs' Martin Boyle celebrates after opening the scoring. Pic: SNS

Hibs' Martin Boyle celebrates after opening the scoring. Pic: SNS

But here we are seven months on, back-to-back victories over Rangers and Aberdeen, the two sides with eyes firmly fixed on that runners-up spot behind Celtic. The number mocking Lennon is dropping by the week.

Yes, Hibs remain in fourth place but there’s little doubt the Capital club are building a head of steam, four wins out of five in the league since the winter break, the only setback that narrow defeat at Celtic Park.

The gap between them and Aberdeen has been trimmed to five points and with Brendan Rodgers taking his players to Pittodrie this weekend having already enjoyed two 3-0 victories over the Dons, Lennon will see his own side’s trip to Kilmarnock as a chance to reduce that advantage even further with, of course, the caveat that under Steve Clarke the Rugby Park club have themselves become formidable opponents.

Nevertheless, no-one at Easter Road will fear anyone at the moment, Hibs playing a stylish brand of football full of verve and energy, a rock-solid defence providing a platform for, arguably, the best midfield in the country in John McGinn, Dylan McGeouch and Scott Allan with, ahead of them, at last, a cutting edge in new strikers Florian Kamberi and Jamie Maclaren.

Florian Kamberi made it 2-0 for Hibs on the hour mark. Pic: SNS

Florian Kamberi made it 2-0 for Hibs on the hour mark. Pic: SNS

The return of Allan, who departed three years ago in a somewhat acrimonious divorce as he pressed for a move to his boyhood heroes Rangers only to eventually transfer to Celtic, appears to have provided the final piece of the jigsaw.

A player of undoubted talent and ability, Allan has led a nomadic existence, his switch to Glasgow, like so many of his previous excursions, proving less than successful but at Easter Road he looks, once again, firmly at home, reproducing the form which saw him lift the Championship player of the year award in his single season in a green and white shirt.

It may be early days for the on-loan Celtic player, but on the evidence of his performances at Ibrox and now against the Dons, Allan has brought that touch of creativity which Hibs had been crying out for, someone to operate between the opposition’s midfield and back-line and with the ability to apply the telling pass his vision provides.

However, to suggest the win at Ibrox – described as better than beating Barcelona by Lennon – and now a display hailed by the Hibs boss as “the performance of the season” is purely down to the return of Allan would be to do his team-mates a dis-service.

Head coach Neil Lennon celebrates with the Hibs fans. Pic: SNS

Head coach Neil Lennon celebrates with the Hibs fans. Pic: SNS

From back to front Lennon’s side have been simply outstanding, too good for Rangers and this time round leaving Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes admitting the Dons had been lucky to get away with losing just 2-0.

“Murdered”, to use McInnes’ description, by a breathless second-half display by Hibs, it was, nevertheless, an outcome which few had predicted with the game goal-less at the interval, not least Aberdeen’s skipper for the day Kenny McLean although he admitted his team hadn’t heeded the warning signs.

The midfielder said: “It was pretty even first half but towards the end of it we should have got a warning from the way Hibs finished it. Half-time came at a good time for us in terms of being able to regroup.

“To be honest, we were feeling confident because we had not really stamped our authority on the game or done as well as we knew we could ad yet it was still 0-0. But the fact our goalkeeper (Freddie Woodman) was our best player says a lot about the game.”

Woodman was beaten within a minute of the second half, using his legs to deny Maclaren after he had been left one-one-one by Paul Hanlon’s pass and quickly defying the Aussie striker again as Allan threaded the ball back through to him. But the goalie’s luck ran out as he pushed the ball aside, straight into the path of Martin Boyle who sent a measured header into the empty net. From there on it was all Hibs. Kamberi making it two goals in three games at Easter Road as he wheeled to fire a deflected shot beyond Woodman.

In the end the final scoreline gives the impression of a game which was much closer than it actually was.

Allan said: “It could have been three or four but in terms of performance we were by miles the better team.”

And Allan, below, admitted he was revelling in being back at Hibs, adamant he can win over those fans who were less than enamoured by the nature of his departure in the summer of 2015.

He said: “It was probably 50/50 as to how many fans wanted it but I want to excite them and make them forget about the past.

“People like watching luxury players if that’s what you want to call it. When you go to watch games you want people who get you off your seat, that’s what I go to watch football for. I just want to enjoy football, as simple as that. I am enjoying it and I’m glad to be back.

“I feel as if I am home, that I have slotted back in nicely. I knew I’d have players behind me who’d get the ball to me quickly and with John McGinn and Dylan McGeouch there I have the freedom to go and create.

“And when you have got a manager who has so much belief in your ability you want to go out there for him and not let your team-mates down. The manager keeps it simple, it’s just to go and play your game which suits me down to a ‘T’, that’s what gets the best out of me.”

Allan accepted he still has much to prove as he seeks to fulfil the potential many saw in him as a younger but believes he has begun to do so against two teams that “had people saying they were better than us – but not going on our last two performances”.

“I think we are really building momentum but we have to keep doing that, we’ve a hard fixture at Kilmarnock but we’ll be going there for the three points.”