Hibs head coach Neil Lennon believes an action-packed December will prove the real acid test for his high-flying squad.
The Leith outfit are currently third in the Scottish Premiership – two points adrift of second-placed Aberdeen – having reeled off four consecutive victories over city rivals Hearts, Motherwell, Kilmarnock and Dundee in the past fortnight.
However, Lennon insists that with home fixtures against both halves of the Old Firm plus trips to face Aberdeen and Tynecastle to come next month, it will be the new year before he can set proper targets for his team.
“There are seven games next month so we’ll see where we are after that but I think it’s really difficult to set targets,” the Northern Irishman explained. “We are in a strong position but December is a huge month for us. We have Celtic, Rangers, Aberdeen and Hearts. We’ve had a look at all the teams and played pretty well against them but ultimately, we want to get to the top six and take it from there. There is more to come from Rangers, once they get a manager in, as they have a strong squad there. Aberdeen are really consistent and so the rest of us are fighting to get into that bracket and we want to be at the forefront of that, and we’re doing okay at the minute.”
Although hugely satisfied with the progression he’s seeing on the park as Hibs won promotion from the Championship at the third time of asking in the summer, Lennon believes toppling former club Celtic – currently on a run of 63 domestic games unbeaten – would underline the quality he has at his disposal. The Hibees came agonisingly close to doing just that at Celtic Park in September, John McGinn’s double having given the Edinburgh side a 2-1 lead only for Callum McGregor to notch his second of the match with ten minutes remaining that ensured a share of the spoils. The two clubs went head-to-head again in last month’s Betfred Cup semi-final at Hampden, Brendan Rodgers’ side booking their place in the final with a 4-2 victory.
Asked what his side could do better, Lennon said: “Beat Celtic. That would be one of the games you can look and say ‘can we do it?’. We played well in the two games against them so far this season. And then get into the bracket to Aberdeen and Rangers because I think those are the next two strongest after Celtic, who are a juggernaut.
“I’m really enjoying it, though. You’re never stress-free in this job but I’m really enjoying it. I’m enjoying the club, the structure if the club is good. It’s been three years in the making. We are at the point where we want to move on. We’re getting good crowds but the fans have been tremendous since I’ve come in.”
Lennon, presented yesterday with the Ladbrokes Premiership Manager of the Month award for October, was quick to deflect the attention from his latest personal accolade onto his players whom, he believes, will continue to get better.
“Any manager who gets these awards will tell you it’s down to the team and how they have performed,” he said.
“The players have been absolutely brilliant. Over the course of the season, I’ve been really pleased with how they’ve played. There have been a few bumps along the way but we would expect that. But in the main the consistency has been excellent.
“For me, the way we have played has been the bottom line. We want them to express themselves. We have players who can really handle the ball. We try to play expansive football and we are seeing the fruits of that. We are seeing players coming really into form such as Efe Ambrose, who has been superb for a month or so. He gives us an extra dimension to the way we play. And you can see the partnerships and relationships really begin to develop over the last month, between Efe and Paul Hanlon for example. We are in a good place at the minute.”