He may have been forbidden from entering the home dressing room at half-time thanks to his three-match ban, but Hibs boss Neil Lennon’s message nevertheless came through loud and clear.
The opening 45 minutes had been – and it was there for all to see – very poor, the Easter Road side falling well below the standards they’ve set themselves as they began a run of three games in eight days which might well go a long way to determining exactly where they finish in the Ladbrokes Premiership this season.
In Lennon’s absence it was left to his assistant Garry Parker to deliver that “pep talk”, not that any of those listening needed one, revealed defender Paul Hanlon.
“We knew ourselves it was flat and below the standards we’ve set,” admitted the stand-in skipper. “It was just a case of lifting ourselves up and we played a bit better in the second half.
“The gaffer wasn’t there at half-time, but he was passing down messages to the coaching staff. It was maybe a different tone, but Garry was putting across the same sort of messages as the manager.
“But we’ve got a lot of boys saying their bit as well. There’s a number of them who are passionate about this club, passionate about winning and have that winning mentality. There’s plenty of experience in the changing room who can help when the manager isn’t there.”
Lennon had expressed a concern on two fronts as his players prepared to return from the latest hiatus in their season to play the final three games before the split, matches against three of the Premiership’s bottom four sides.
There was, he revealed, a worry that the two-week break may interrupt the momentum of a team which had clocked up six games without defeat and a nagging doubt, given past experiences, about how his players, well capable of going toe-to-toe with any of the top clubs, would handle the lower-ranked teams in the division.
“I said to the players before the game that, from the outside looking in, there are the games people assume Hibs struggle with,” admitted Lennon. “Complacency sets in and there is a flatness.
“It’s always a worry after these elongated breaks. Some players have been away, some have had injuries and some are coming back to full fitness. We really only got them back as a whole group on Thursday so I understand the flatness to an extent.
“But it wasn’t good, it was a very flat first half, we lacked energy, urgency and purpose. The players got a bit of a pep talk at half-time, we needed to get them in and give them a reminder of their responsibilities.”
Lennon got the response he was looking for, although the game hinged on a remarkable 60 seconds. The Capital club looked to have gone behind when Thistle’s Baily Cargill rose to power in a header, forcing Cammy Bell down to save although the goalkeeper was unable to stop the ball running free. It appeared to be going over the line but Danny Devine, sent off five minutes from time after picking up a second yellow card, hammered it home.
However, assistant referee Douglas Ross had his flag up, indicating Partick striker Miles Storey had been in an offside position and obstructing the view of Bell although there were few, if any, hands raised appealing for the decision.
Within a minute it was Hibs who had taken the lead, Martin Boyle using that blistering pace to chase down a pass down the line from Efe Ambrose which appeared to be running out of play before cutting it back for Jamie Maclaren to rifle into the net from close range.
“We think it is a goal and then we lose concentration,” revealed Cargill. “I’ve watched it back and I think it is harsh for it to be disallowed, it looks a goal. Sometimes you don’t get these decisions and the luck is against us right now
“I asked the ref [Andrew Dallas] at the end and he said the striker was interfering with their goalie.”
Partick boss Alan Archibald also felt it was harsh, the sort of decision which always seems to go against a side such as his struggling to haul themselves out of the relegation zone.
He said: “Hibs would probably have got the goal being at the top end of the league where it works differently. We know that, we’ve all been there.
“Having said that, we maybe felt sorry for ourselves and should have defended better at their opening goal. Our defensive record has been our Achilles heel all season.
“The lads played really well up until that point. We played very well, especially first half. We contained Hibs and they only looked threatening from set plays.”
It was a kick in the teeth as far as the Firhill outfit were concerned and, as Cargill agreed, it left the Jags with a tough ask to get back into the game, but four minutes later it was all over as far as they were concerned, Hanlon rising to glance home Scott Allan’s corner.
Hanlon admitted: “There was a sense of, ‘we’ve got away with it so let’s go and make amends’ and our response couldn’t have been better. We scored right from the restart and the first goal was a big relief, a weight off our chest and we played a wee bit after that.
“The offside decision spurred us into life, shook us a little to start playing because although we didn’t play particularly well, we also didn’t feel too much in danger in terms of losing a goal, albeit Cammy made a great save from [Conor] Sammon early in the second half. Going forward and keeping the ball we weren’t great, ‘flat’ is probably the best word to describe it.
“It was a great three points, although performance-wise it was one of the flattest. There wasn’t a lot of tempo in the first half and the crowd were getting a bit frustrated.
“A few boys have had mixed training schedules with injuries, so it has been a wee bit disjointed and for a few days last week we only had nine boys training. We won ugly. We’ve had a lot of praise this year for the style of football we’ve played. We weren’t as good this time, but we got the win and I’ll take that all day.”