Neil Lennon hailed his derby-day heroes, claiming their 1-0 win flattered arch-rivals Hearts and that only Scottish champions Celtic could have lived with his team on the night.
A third-minute goal from top-scorer Simon Murray – his 11th of the season – was enough to give Hibs their eighth match without defeat against the Gorgie outfit, Lennon’s only complaint that his players had not enjoyed a more emphatic victory.
Other than that, Lennon was delighted, although he felt Hearts kid Harry Cochrane should have been sent off in the dying seconds for a “cynical” challenge on Easter Road midfielder Joihn McGinn.
And although he described the performance as the best he has had as Hibs manager, Lennon insisted it was one which had been coming.
He said: “I am very, very happy. You know me, it takes a lot to make me happy, but I thought the first half was perfect. I thought the football, the pace, the intensity – only Celtic could live with that.
“We have been playing ever so well, I’ve been saying it for a while and we haven’t got what we deserved. I think the scoreline flatters Hearts, I thought we were thoroughly dominant. I have been involved in a lot of derbies and that’s as good as any in terms of the performance and the feeling I have got out of it.”
Hibs had gone into the first derby of the season trailing Hearts by two points, but they leapfrogged the Jambos thanks to Murray’s thunderbolt to leave Lennon delighted with the way they bounced back from the disappointment of losing their semi-final in the Betfred Cup to Celtic at the weekend.
He said: “There was a lot riding on it and we have come out of it brilliantly. It was a good finish from Simon. He has been champing at the bit – he’s been a bit off-colour last couple of games and I think seeing Oli [Shaw] come on at the weekend has given him a wee short in the arm.
“Simon played well, but I think everyone played well. My two wingers were fantastic, I thought Brandon Barker was incredible. My three midfielders ... Marvin Bartley does a great job, while Dylan McGeouch and John McGinn are as good as anything in the country at the minute. Efe Ambrose is playing as well as ever, Paul Hanlon brilliant, my two full backs were rock solid, my goalkeeper had a great game. He didn’t have a lot to do, but did it well.
“More importantly it’s three points, we are back in top six and our punters are going home happy, which is the most important thing.”
Asked if he’d expected more from Hearts, Lennon replied: “That’s down to us, we made them make mistakes, we pressed them we moved the ball very, very well. I cannot be critical of the opposition, I can only be very vocal about how well my team played.
“That was a pretty special performance, as good as I have had here.”
Despite this being only Hibs’ second home win in the league, Lennon was adamant the results haven’t been a true reflection of the way his side have been playing.
“Some people can shoot me down,” he said, “but I think we have played pretty well, Celtic away Aberdeen here, even Celtic in the semi-final for long periods we matched them. We have not been far away against top teams and we played very well again tonight.
“We were light. We lost Anthony Stokes and Danny Swanson and have not had Darren McGregor or Liam Fontaine for a few weeks, so we had three kids on the bench as well but I was very happy with every player out there, very happy. They did the club proud.”
Lennon added that he thought 16-year-old Cochrane was lucky to escape a red card from referee Andrew Dallas for his late lunge on McGinn.
He said: “There’s no intention to play the ball, he’s just tried to take John out. It was cynical, a professional foul. There was a lot going on, the foul count is double so there was a lot going on out there. It’s a derby, you want the ref to be firm and in the main he had a good game.”