Last season Neil Lennon described his team as the second best in the country despite losing out to Aberdeen in the semi-final of the Scottish Cup.
This year the Hibs manager and his players are trying to live up to that bold claim. But if they are to reach such heights they will have to usurp Derek McInnes’ men and, at the very least, put on a better showing in their head-to-heads.
Back in the top flight, this year, the Championship winners face up to the Pittodrie side for the first time on league duty tomorrow and while the challenge facing them is a tough one, Lennon says he is relishing the opportunity to examine any progress made.
“Aberdeen are a real good test for us,” he said. “They are an excellent side with an excellent manager. They had a very impressive win against St Johnstone last time out and have had an unbeaten start to the season. So it’s a game we are looking forward to. We know we’re going to be tested.”
Aberdeen have grown used to being the best of the rest and, last term, they were the team to finish runners-up to Celtic in all three of the major domestic competitions. On their day, Lennon believes his men can match them but he accepts that their consistency means that they have set a high benchmark for everyone other than Celtic.
“They would be the marker for us. Derek has been there for four or five years now and they have been really consistent and strong. Although he has had to make changes – he has lost Ryan Jack, Niall McGinn, Jonny Hayes and a few other players, they look stronger again. He has brought in some great players – Ryan Christie, Greg Stewart, and Stevie May is a handful – and they don’t concede many. So the core of the squad is very, very strong.
“They have been pretty successful over the last three or four seasons. They have been really consistent, up there challenging and in Europe. So that’s the marker for us.”
Going into tomorrow’s match, the Leith side sit sixth, seven points adrift of Aberdeen. But they have been lifted by their showing against Celtic prior to the mini-break.
“We were excellent that last time out,” Lennon said of his side’s 2-2 draw at Parkhead. “It was a very good team performance. We handled the environment and the circumstances really well. We played very strongly and almost won the game. So the mentality of the team is good. Now there are no excuses. That’s what I know I can get from the team. That’s what they can produce so I’m just looking for more of that on a consistent basis.”
Lennon, who will start with Ross Laidlaw in goal after Ofir Marciano missed training due to minor complications with the health of his newborn son, is adamant that there has been progress in his ranks as well as the opposition’s since last season’s Scottish Cup meeting,
“I think we’re better. I think we’ve improved,” he said. “I think we’ve brought some good players in and they certainly all showed at Celtic Park what they are capable of.”
l Hibernian FC – through its GameChanger partnership with Hibernian Community Foundation and NHS Lothian – is working with the ScotRail Alliance to promote better mental health in Scottish football. The club will host a two-day training session to allow coaches from a number of local football clubs to learn more about mental health first aid.