Darren McGregor believes boss Neil Lennon is almost like a 12th man on the pitch for Hibs because he becomes so involved in matches from the touchline.
Lennon cuts an animated figure during games, roaring instructions, frenetically pointing to where players should be and, from time to time, making his displeasure obvious.
The former Leicester, Celtic and Northern Ireland midfielder is as sore a loser as he was during his own playing days and that, claimed McGregor, is the reason behind Hibs’ opening up an eight-point lead at the top of the table, five straight wins in January earning Lennon the Championship manager of the month award.
“It’s been a great month,” agreed McGregor. “We were tucked in nicely at the end of December behind Dundee United but January has been great. We’ve kept three clean sheets and managed to create an eight-point buffer.
“It’s testament to the gaffer and the boys.”
Revealing Lennon is the most vocal manager he’s ever worked under, 31-year-old McGregor said: “I’m normally over the other side of the pitch so I can’t hear him which is good because he can get very animated.
“I’m glad I didn’t hear him last week because I think he was giving me stick, or so I was told. You’re sometimes aware of it because he is very animated – but that’s his way of expressing what he wants done and it works so I am happy with it.”
After a scintillating performance to demolish closest title rivals United 3-0, Hibs have ground out 1-0 wins away to Dumbarton and Queen of the South, games in which McGregor admitted they would probably have struggled to win last season.
And, again, the big defender insisted, that’s down to the influence of Lennon. He said: “What’s been pleasing is we have managed to grind out results this season.
“These were games last year that we struggled to see out. We were labelled as a team that lost late goals but we have got to a stage now where we are coming towards the home stretch and we’ve been quite impressive up to date.
“We’ve not always played great but the fans will take that on the chin because we are getting results.
“I think the standards the gaffer sets is responsible for us grinding out wins. When we cross the line we are the ones in charge but a lot of it stems from his tenacity and will to win.
“We see how much he wants to win and how much he puts into it and we know we have to follow suit. We need to adopt the same mentality as our manger and a lot of the boys have done that.
“Is he like a 12th man? Yes he is. I’m sure you guys hear him more than we do and a lot of the stuff he says you could not print.
“He exuded the same qualities as a player. Sometimes he can be vocal and you don’t like to hear what he is saying sometimes, but he is an honest guy and you have to take it on the chin. We are all adults here, it’s a man’s game.”
While many are now saying the title is Hibs’ to throw away, McGregor was more cautious saying: “We all know football and things can change very quickly.
“That’s why the gaffer focuses only on the next game because complacency can creep in and you lose points.”
To that end, insisted McGregor, next weekend’s Scottish Cup derby against Hearts takes second place to today’s match against struggling Ayr United.
He said: “I’m not going to say I haven’t thought about playing at Tynecastle and the memories of last season – of course that goes through your head.
“But I think it would be unfair to Ayr to talk about it. They are our priority at the minute. Each game week on week is the most important game of the season.”