While the frontline keep scoring tallies, the Hibernian defence has been more pre- occupied with collecting clean sheets this term. The fact they have amassed 12 in the 22 Championship matches so far has given the Easter Road side the perfect foundation on which to build their title charge.
In fact the squad has conceded just 11 league goals and that miserly approach to matches allowed them to see out more games than they might have done in the past and rendered them virtually impossible to beat, losing just twice.
Three of the clean sheets came in January and they have played a major part in the Leith side opening up a size-able gap at the top of the table, and in Neil Lennon being named Manager of the Month for that period.
“It’s been a great month,” said defender Darren 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.
“Is it looking like ours to lose now? 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 can lose points. But what’s been pleasing is we have managed to grind out results this season.
“There 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.
“Forwards take pride in scoring and we are enjoying keeping clean sheets. But it’s not just down to the four guys in defence and the goalkeeper. It’s about the guys in midfield and the guys up top too. It’s a collective effort but as a defender you take great pride.
“I’m sure Jason Cummings could tell you every goal he has scored. But I don’t count the number of clean sheets. I’ve been in teams before that have done that but not here. At the end of the season I will look back but right now it’s game by game. Once you get to congratulating yourself on clean sheets then you can take your eye off the ball. So far so good.”
That focus will be important this afternoon as the league leaders welcome Ayr United to the capital. The only side to leave Easter Road victorious on league business this season, no-one at Hibs will underestimate them, not if they want to avoid an ear-bashing from their manager.
“I think the standards he sets are responsible for us grinding out wins,” said McGregor. “When we cross that 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 manager and a lot of the boys have done that.”
That means that even the Scottish Cup derby has been placed on the back burner. “I’m obviously not going to lie and say I have not 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. Each game week-on-week is the most important game of the season. So, right now Ayr is our biggest game.”