Neil Lennon hails '˜beautiful day' as Hibs hit heady heights
Football managers are notoriously difficult to please. Regardless of the result, there always seems to be something that's not been to their liking.
So, perhaps to hear Hibs boss Neil Lennon declare “it doesn’t get much better than this” is an indication of just how strong a performance this was from Hibs. It was far too good for Morton, who were left chasing shadows for much of the game and one which took the Capital club to their fourth successive league win and to the top of the Championship table.
Four goals, four headers and four different scorers allied to a second consecutive clean sheet was, Lennon reckoned, reason enough for him to be satisfied, although he admitted that as much as he enjoyed his afternoon, his side are not yet the finished article.
Goals have been the one missing ingredient as far as Lennon was concerned in Hibs’ three previous outings, even although they’d taken all three points from Falkirk, Dunfermline and St Mirren. That gripe, however, had come with the caveat that someone was going to take a “heavy beating”.
Unfortunately for former Hibs manager Jim Duffy, it was to be his team from Greenock as they suffered their first defeat of the season. There was, though, little he could do other than admit his old club had been far too good for his current one.
“We have to be honest and realistic to say Hibs have got a huge gulf in quality and resources and that was shown,” Duffy conceded.
“It’s the first game we’ve lost and I’ve said to the players it’s about the standards and Hibs today both with and without the ball didn’t give us a minute.
“They put balls into the box – difference between a Lennon side and an [Alan] Stubbs side. In Grant Holt they have a presence and we struggled to cut the wide areas off.”
Lennon had suggested when he immediately succeeded Stubbs as Hibs boss that his team would be more direct and get the ball into the danger area more often and he’s brought in strikers Grant Holt and Brian Graham with that approach very much in mind.
And how it paid off on this occasion, although it was Andrew Shinnie – starting his first match – who was the first to get his head to the ball, finding space at the back post to nod Fraser Fyvie’s inviting cross beyond Derek Gaston.
The Morton goalkeeper was then probably as surprised as anyone to find himself beaten to John McGinn’s cross by Holt, the veteran powering in inches ahead of Gaston to bullet home his first goal for Hibs.
Jason Cummings got his obligatory goal, his sixth of the season, as he headed home Shinnie’s cross before the striker set up arguably the best of the lot for substitute Graham.
Out wide on the left, Cummings swung in a fantastic cross for Graham to attack and that he did, sending a thumping header down past the Morton’s helpless substitute goalkeeper Andy McNeil, Gaston having picked up a dead leg in that earlier joust with Holt.
“I love those kind of goals,” purred Lennon. “It’s an art. I love centre forwards who go and try and attack the ball. In the first half Holt was our best attacking player by a long way. He dominated their centre halves and got other people into the game. I was delighted he got his goal because he deserved it.
“I’m happy – and it takes a lot to make me happy. But what we are doing is putting good balls into the box and getting people on the end of them. There are different ways to skin a cat. We’ve worked on it and it’s something we can improve.”
As Lennon observed, Hibs could easily have run out even more impressive winners, the pace of Martin Boyle introduced for the final 12 minutes but time enough for him to have claimed a hat-trick of his own.
Lennon said: “Martin is a threat, he likes running in behind and that gives us something again that’s a little different.”
If Shinnie and Graham marked their first games at Easter Road with a goal apiece, goalkeeper Ofir Marciano would have been delighted to celebrate his debut with a clean sheet although, in truth, the Israeli internationalist was untroubled throughout the 90 minutes as Morton failed to produce even one shot on target.
However, while admitting the 26-year-old will have busier and more difficult afternoons, Lennon put his quiet introduction to Scottish football down to those players in front of him, saying: “Our two centre halves [Darren McGregor and Paul Hanlon] were outstanding and they made it easy for Ofir because they defended solidly.
“You always want more, but we were playing a decent side and our application was good, we defended set plays very well and scored goals. The sum of all parts was very good.
“I had no complaints, no criticisms at all today. We had another fantastic crowd, it was a beautiful day. I think that’s as good as it gets really.”
Hibs now have a break from league action, travelling to face Turriff United in the Irn-Bru Cup on Sunday, with Lennon intent on resting some of his players although Marciano will play, his manager saying: “The more time he gets under his belt the more accustomed he will get to the game here.”
Although Hibs are where everyone expected them to be, Lennon cautioned against anyone getting too far ahead of themselves. He added: “Anything can happen over the course of the season.
“Queen of the South won again and are building a bit of momentum as well. We want to keep winning and hopefully teams take points off each other. We’ll see where we are after ten games, then after 20. All it is is a good start, a very good start.”
And that warning was underlined by former Hibs player McNeil, who reminded his old club how their league campaign fell apart last season following Morton’s last visit to Easter Road when the Greenock outfit produced a shock 3-0 win against a side which had lost just one of its previous 28 matches.
He said: “Hibs are obviously strong, strong favourites and at the moment you can’t see that changing. But at the same time, we came here last year, Hibs were flying and they lost 3-0 and that was them until the cup final.
“Things can change quickly in football, but at the minute they are doing great and I can’t see that changing any time soon.”
Like Duffy, McNeil highlighted the subtle changes Lennon has made, saying: “All four goals were from crosses and headers, all different types of headers and crosses. That shows the new manager has changed style slightly and I think that will pay dividends.
“Last year I felt some of the games we played against Hibs they were predictable. Now they still play good football, but have the aerial threat of Holt and Graham. That will make a big difference for them this year.”