Victory against Wasps has Hibs buzzing – but not over-confident

Hibs striker Simon Murray reacts after making it 2-0 against Alloa. Pic: SNS
Hibs striker Simon Murray reacts after making it 2-0 against Alloa. Pic: SNS
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It is fair to say the going will get that little bit tougher for Hibs as they return to the Premiership following a three-year absence.

But Neil Lennon’s players will do so with confidence following their impressive sequence of results in the group stages of the Betfred Cup.

Fraser Murray puts Hibs ahead in Clackmannanshire. Pic: SNS

Fraser Murray puts Hibs ahead in Clackmannanshire. Pic: SNS

The Easter Road outfit secured what Lennon admitted was an unexpected top spot in Group D, the only section to contain two top-flight clubs, the Capital outfit just nosing out Ross County for first place on goal difference.

Four games played, undefeated over 90 minutes and with 13 goals scored against only one conceded leaves little room for complaint, Hibs reaching the knockout stages with another convincing win, this time 3-0 over Alloa Athletic at the Indodrill Stadium on Saturday courtesy of two goals from Simon Murray and one from his namesake Fraser.

Partick Thistle, the side which finished sixth in the Premiership last season, will present an entirely different test to those posed – and no disrespect to them – by Montrose, Arbroath and the Wasps when they arrive at Easter Road this weekend for the start of the league campaign.

However, argued striker Simon Murray, these games have all been far from straightforward themselves. The red-hot striker took his tally thus far to seven since joining Hibs in the summer with a double in Clackmannanshire and he said: “It will get tougher, but nevertheless, you have to beat the teams you are playing. We’ve seen or teams in the Premiership – I’m not naming what team or teams – struggling.

Deivydas Matulevicius made his Hibs debut from the bench. Pic: SNS

Deivydas Matulevicius made his Hibs debut from the bench. Pic: SNS

“You could be unprofessional and not go about it the right way, but sometimes teams sit in and it’s harder. They have all been tough games and we are just glad we have done it the right way.”

His boss Lennon agreed, saying: “It was important to win the game and we did that in convincing fashion. It’s another game under the players’ belt. We are scoring goals, keeping clean sheets.

“It was a difficult game. It takes two teams to make a style of a game. Alloa made it difficult, they tried to contain us but we have the players who can make a difference in the final third and we are showing that at the minute.”

Murray may have grabbed all the headlines with his strike rate, but he agreed with Lennon that he owes much to the blistering pace of team-mate Martin Boyle, who had a hand in all three goals against Alloa.

Vykintas Slivka also made his first competitive Hibs appearance. Pic: SNS

Vykintas Slivka also made his first competitive Hibs appearance. Pic: SNS

He said: “They’ve been laid on a plate to be fair. Martin has been flashing the ball across the goal. His pace is unbelievable. It doesn’t matter what team you are playing against, there are not many defenders that could cope with his pace.

“He is probably one of the fastest boys in the Scottish leagues. I just need to make sure when the ball comes in that I am there.”

Murray’s early-season form has undoubtedly helped silence those among the Hibs support who were more than a touch sceptical about him as he arrived from Dundee United only for top scorer for the past three seasons, Jason Cummings, to depart shortly thereafter. The 25-year-old, though, insisted he had no worries.

“They have seen me come from United and, just as I would, when you see someone coming from another club you want them to do well,” he said.

“You have to prove to everyone, but you do it for yourself. I am just glad to have got the goals and hopefully they are happy.”

Lennon, of course, is intent in strengthening his strikeforce, signing Lithuanian forward Deivydas Matulevicius, while awaiting a response from Irish forward Anthony Stokes to the “very, very good offer” made to him by Hibs.

Rather than see the possible arrival of Stokes as a threat, Murray said he would relish having Stokes as a team-mate.

“I see it as it improving me as a player,” he said. “The stronger the squad, the stronger you are. I see myself as a different striker and if I am scoring goals then he [Lennon] is going to have to play me.”

There’s no doubt Matulevicius – known to his new team-mates as “Davie” – represents yet another dimension for Hibs, the 6ft 3in centre forward given a second-half run-out along with his countryman and fellow internationalist Vykintas Slivka.

Murray said: “I’ve only known him for a week and trained with him two or three times because we’ve had that many games, but he’s the kind of guy I like to play with. He can win flick-ons, he did that a couple of times against Alloa.

“I didn’t get on the end of them, but that comes from playing with each other, getting used to where he heads the ball.”

Lennon was happy enough with the contribution of both new boys, pointing out that they are not quite at the level required at this stage.

He said: “Slivka is just in the door so we’ve not been able to get any work in to him.

“Matulevicius has been here a while, but he had a dead leg earlier in the week. You can see what he is going to bring to the team. He is a big boy, a physical presence. I thought he was very unlucky not to get a penalty.

“He has a bit of work to do to catch up with the rest of them, but that’s fine. He will give us a different dimension to the way we want to play at times.

“Slivka is athletic, two-footed and once he gets to know the players and the way we play we are hoping he will fit in well.”

An added bonus for Lennon was the appearance of Paul Hanlon, the defender given a 15-minute cameo at the end of the game having started just one first-team match since early January because of a pelvic problem.

Lennon said: “Paul will be a bit rusty because he has not played competitively for a while, but it was a real boost to have him back because he is a very good player.”

The Hibs boss agreed his squad is looking in good shape and with morale high as they prepare to face Partick, but cautioned: “It’s not misguided confidence. We are playing a very good team in Partick Thistle. They’ve been in the Premiership for however many years it is now and they finished sixth last season.

“It’s a step up in class, no question of that.”