A year ago we were celebrating a 94th minute winner by Dom Malonga to bring us level at the top of the league, after we’d trailed them by 11 points at one point. It was impressive considering our poor start to the season. This year we are seeing an almost mirror image of that scenario, with us having a good start, pulling 7 points ahead of Dundee Utd, but now finding ourselves level on points with them going into Christmas.
When Alan Stubbs left in the summer and the talk was that we were in talks with Lennon, I was sceptical, and I said so in this blog, but I talked myself round focussing on the fact that he’d taken Celtic to the last 16 in the Champions League, beaten Barcelona and continually beaten teams in the league that played very defensively and were happy to snatch a draw against the Champions. In friendlies and our brief foray in Europe, I was quite excited. We seemed to be still trying to play football but were playing with width, and had addressed the fact that we needed a target man. We started the league well with 5 wins in a row, and if it wasn’t for Stephen Dobbie, we would probably have already been sitting a few points clear of any other team.
When the transfer window closed, I was slightly underwhelmed. I was pleased with the Shinnie signing and Marciano looked like a good move, but we still hadn’t brought in any real pace, and it looked like Lennon was going to be relying on Alex Harris coming good – I admired his optimism, but after seeing the lad over the last few seasons, I wasn’t alone in thinking he was never going to make it at Hibs. The squad seemed short on numbers and it wasn’t as if we’d used all the budget on a smaller but higher quality squad. But we were winning so we had to trust what was going on.
Fast forward to Saturday evening, and for the 3rd game in a row we witnessed a pretty poor Hibs performance. In fairness, the Dundee Utd game was a tale of 2 penalties, BUT, we didn’t really do enough to win the game out with those penalties. The Dumbarton game saw one of the worst opening 30 minutes I’d seen from a Hibs team in quite a while. The players looked as if they had no idea what they were meant to be doing and we struggled to put more than 2 or 3 passes together. It did get slightly better, and we saw out the 2-0 win, with people rightly saying it was all about the 3pts and winning ugly wins titles. Onto Saturday, and we’re all excited to see Kris Commons starting. In all honesty, I really wasn’t expecting much from him. It was his first 1st team start since March so the game was probably more about getting some sharpness for the weeks ahead. But if the players felt any boost from having Commons in the team, they didn’t show it, and it required a fantastic free kick from Cummings to rescue a point. Now the argument for this game is, Morton haven’t lost at home all season, and for all these 3 games, we were missing our 2 best players in McGinn and Fyvie. My worry is though, we ALWAYS have an excuse. When we lost to Ayr, it was due to Bartley getting sent off, but in all honesty we fell apart for 5 minutes after the red card where we should have been professional enough to see the game out. As the season goes on, people are still saying “we’ll pull away”, and “we’re still top”. Well there’s no denying that we’re still top, but in these first 17 games we have had numerous opportunities to create a real gap at the top of the league and we’ve failed to do so, and is anyone really confident that our current style of play is going to keep us above a Dundee Utd team that have gelled much quicker than expected and are really working for their manager.
January is now huge – whatever the reasons were for us not bringing in the real quality that was required in the summer, we HAVE to do it now, in a window that notoriously difficult to really strengthen in. Dundee Utd will look to strengthen with an out and out striker at the very least, and they will feel confident that if they get the right guy, they will continue their good form. We on the other hand probably need 3 players ON TOP of Kris Commons. We still desperately need pace and natural attacking width, and its good to hear that Lennon has had a few wingers in on trial over the last few weeks. At the minute we seem to be trying to fit too many square pegs into round holes. Gray and Stevenson are good full backs, but attacking wing backs they are not. Bartley is a cracking combative midfielder, but playing him in a midfield where he is now expected to take more than 3 touches and bring the ball over the halfway line, then as Saturday showed, it just doesn’t work. Shinnie being played as a central midfielder also doesn’t work, he’s clearly better behind the strikers.
Don’t get me wrong, the return of Fyvie and McGinn will be just as important as any new signings, and ANY team is going to be impacted by the loss of their main 2 central midfielders, BUT, in this league we should still have enough quality to dispatch of most teams without them. Scott Martin must wonder what he needs to do to get a game.
Now is the time where Lennon really has to start earning his wages. When we caught Rangers this time last year, they reacted by upping their game on the 27th December against us, and from then on they opened up a real gap. Well we have the chance to do the same thing two weeks on Friday. First we must deal with Raith at home and Falkirk away which will both be very tough games, but then the home game against Utd is a real opportunity for us to say, “this is the real Hibs, and you are gonna have to perform miracles to catch us”. Its time for the players and coaches to step up. They are going to be backed well at Raith and Falkirk so they need to react positively. Hopefully after the next 3 games, we won’t have 3 more excuses as to why things didn’t go as we’d hoped.
On to brighter subjects, I thought what Marathon Bet done for the fans on Saturday was terrific. Putting on buses, a free drink, a venue and a band is great interaction with the club. This follows on from the Santa hats and the video content like the recent celebrations piece and the continuation of Outside the Box. It is definitely the most I have ever seen a sponsor do for/with the club, and hope it continues.
Also, with Christmas looming, it really did make me feel proud to see the club putting on the “gamechanger Christmas” where they are putting on Christmas lunch and entertainment for up to 230 elderly, homeless and underprivileged people. I believe the spaces haven’t all been filled so hopefully we manage to do so as it’s a great initiative from the club and continues to see them improve as a “community club”
Finally, I hope we all get what we want over the festive period……. 9 points please Santa!!!