McGregor: Clean sheets fine but they don’t win titles

Darren McGregor is eager to chip in with goals after establishing himself in the Hibs defence
Darren McGregor is eager to chip in with goals after establishing himself in the Hibs defence
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Four clean sheets in five matches would probably be regarded as good going for any team but, as far as Hibs defender Darren McGregor is concerned shut-outs are not enough.

McGregor is, of course, delighted to be part of a back four which has conceded just four goals in seven Championship games so far, but he does, however, share the frustration of all at Easter Road that Neil Lennon’s side aren’t as free-scoring as they should be.

The lack of goals has been a constant theme of Lennon’s post-match press conferences, the latest following the no-scoring draw against Queen of the South in which top scorer Jason Cummings, according to his boss, missed a couple of “gilt-edged chances”.

However, in lamenting those potential match winners which would have seen Hibs leapfrog the Dumfries outfit and regain the lead in the league, Lennon also insisted others should be asking themselves why such opportunities also seemed to fall to the club’s 20-year-old top scorer and no-one else.

In particular, Lennon referenced the number of corners Hibs forced at Palmerston Park, the majority of the 12 they won coming in a wind-assisted second half, and questioned why his players hadn’t made more of such set pieces.

In that regard McGregor was in complete agreement with his manager, the 31-year-old saying: “We had a good number of corners and as centre halves we need to help out the forwards by getting our heads on them and play our part by trying to score.

“The manager was saying that Jason has scored eight goals but the nearest to him have only one to their name so we definitely need to chip in with more goals from front to back.

“From a selfish point of view as a defender keeping clean sheets is great, that’s what we pride ourselves on doing but in themselves they are not enough. We need to capitalise on the chances that come from set pieces.”

Despite the loss of Lewis Stevenson early in the second half, the left-back falling victim to two yellow cards, McGregor was adamant ten-man Hibs should still have toppled Queens and atoned to a degree for the shock defeat at home to Ayr United a week earlier, the part-timers cashing in after Marvin Bartley had been red carded - a decision later rescinded.

“It was a hard shift,” McGregor admitted of having to play short-handed for 35 minutes in atrocious conditions, a squally wind whipping heavy rain the length of the pitch. “But we still had high expectations of going there and winning. Losing to Ayr was a bitter pill to swallow but we wanted to bounce back.

“We were productive in the first two-thirds but in the final third we were not creative enough. To be fair, they were resolute and, on the face of it, a draw might not be a bad result.”

The conditions made life tricky for defenders and goalkeepers in particular, Hibs No.1 Ofir Marciano pulling off good save from Queens forward Dale Hilson in the dying minutes to prevent the Dumfries club stretching their lead to four points, McGregor admitting it was a case of ensuring 100 per cent concentration.

He said: “It was all about reading the ball and getting to where it was going to land. Whether it was a cross or a kick from their goalkeeper the ball was liable to deviate in the air so you had to make sure you got it right.

“Ofir is just settling in having come to the club not long ago from a different country and is still getting used to our game. He’ll take confidence from that. The conditions made it really difficult for the goalkeepers and on an artificial surface the ball can skid on. Queens are used to playing on that although I’d rather play on grass but, as has been said often enough before, it’s the same for both sides and you just have to get on with it.”

Less than a fortnight ago, with five straight wins to their name, Hibs were being tipped to run away with the Championship title in much the same way Hearts and Rangers had done in the previous two seasons with some speculating, given the strength of the squad at Lennon’s disposal, that they might even go through the entire campaign unbeaten.

We know now, of course, that isn’t going to be the case but, insisted McGregor, it wasn’t something which was being discussed within the dressing-room although, naturally, the desire was to win each game as it came along.

Results elsewhere at the weekend mean Falkirk and Raith Rovers have now pulled themselves to within three points of Hibs while Dundee United are also closer than they might have been.

But that, claimed McGregor, doesn’t surprise him in the slightest. He said: “Queen of the South, Falkirk, Raith, Dundee United, they are all difficult places to go and I think everyone knows from past experience that no matter who you are playing in the Championship each game is as tough as the next.

“Every week presents problems regardless of who the opposition are. As I’ve said, a point away to Queens is perhaps not a bad result, but we wanted all three points.

“I feel if we play to our maximum we should win but you have to stress the reason we didn’t win at the weekend was because we never put the ball in the back of their net. If you don’t do that you are not going to win games.”