Why Lee Johnson might want to take a leaf out of Neil Lennon's playbook to banish 'soft underbelly'
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Quite. The match statistics spoke volumes, showing the visitors with 61 per cent possession and just one goal scored from 17 shots of which six were on target. The Easter Road side had controlled large spells of the first period without breaching Kelle Roos’ goal. The Dutchman denied Ewan Henderson with a fingertip save but wasn’t really called into action beyond fielding a couple of speculative efforts from distance, and there was a nagging familiarity about Hibs’ failure to make their dominance count.
Indeed, it’s a drum Johnson has been banging with more frequency than he would like. While it’s not particularly remarkable for teams to perform better on their own turf than on the road, Hibs don’t seem to cope well with going a goal down on the road. In both away wins so far this term, Hibs have scored first.
On Friday night Johnson spoke of the ‘soft underbelly’ in his team, in a psychological sense, but also described them as a ‘good team with a lot of potential’. There have been signs, even against Aberdeen, that the players are buying into the 41-year-old’s playing philosophy – some of the attacking play is about as slick and swift as it could be – but as Johnson pointed out, it counts for little when some of the defending leaves a lot to be desired.
It was Neil Lennon who coined the ‘boyband’ moniker for Hibs shortly after succeeding Alan Stubbs in 2016. The former Celtic manager wasted no time in vowing to rid the club of its soft centre, saying: “Hibs have been soft, I’ve been one of the first to say that about them. Boyband. There’s a culture here that the club plays good football, going back to the Famous Five, and I want to buy into that."
Upon his arrival at Easter Road in May Johnson laid out his plans for how he wanted Hibs to play. There was an emphasis on attacking, stylish football too.
"I like to turn up the attacking dial and play a high-tempo brand of football – aggressive and on the front foot. I will try to win every game, sometimes to our detriment,” he said.
Lennon created a swashbuckling unit that, while not perfect, won more than it didn’t and came within a whisker of finishing third. They managed a record top-flight points total and the 5-5 draw with Rangers on the final day of the season showcased Hibs at their best and worst. Incidentally, Hibs lost 4-1 to Aberdeen at Pittodrie in December that season and only lost two more away matches, as Lennon monstered his side’s defensive lapses and timidity in front of goal.
Johnson will be hoping he can nix the psychological shortcomings and do likewise. The attacking football is fun to watch but Hibs need to be more clinical, and more miserly. He may well opt to change things up in a bid to get a result against Ross County on Tuesday night but if he does, the litmus test will be building on it at Kilmarnock on Saturday.