If Hibernian win tonight, it will finally be safe to assume that the club will be heading back to the Premiership as title winners, according to manager Neil Lennon.
Three points against Morton would give the league leaders a 13-point advantage over Jim Duffy’s men and, although the Greenock side still have a game in hand and would have the opportunity to close the gap with another head- to-head a week on Saturday, Lennon believes their rivals would run out of games long before they could overhaul such a deficit.
“Mathematically it’s not [over tonight] but psychologically I would imagine it would take the mother of all collapses for us to give anyone a sniff.
“We are not looking that far ahead because if we are going to win the game we will need to play very strongly. Morton will come here on the back of a disappointing defeat [against Dunfermline] and motivated to put one over on us. They have had a great season and they are a very difficult team to play against.”
The last time the sides met at Easter Road, back in August, Hibs ran out 4-0 winners but the most recent meeting, at Cappielow, finished in a 1-1 stalemate.
But having spent three years fighting to get back to the top flight, Lennon believes his men now stand on the brink of realising their ambition and he says that it is now important that they focus all their energy on sealing the outcome ahead of the distractions of the Scottish Cup semi-final against Aberdeen on 22 April.
“That would be ideal but nothing is ever given to you,” said Lennon, pictured. “We’ll have to play well and win the games consistently to have that luxury.”
Three wins, against Morton tonight, at Dunfermline on Saturday and then away to this evening’s visitors in ten days, would be enough to guarantee the title and Lennon claims that although the task has been tougher than he anticipated when he took the reins in the summer, it is an achievement his men will have well and truly earned.
“It has been a pressure but I have enjoyed the pressure and the challenge. It has been frustrating at times but the division has been harder than I thought because it was so competitive. The expectation from some was that we would skoosh this league by 20 points. That was never going to be the case. But we are in double digits now in terms of a lead and that is pretty healthy, and in games where they haven’t been their best they have ground out results and sometimes that is what you need.
“There is a tradition here for Hibs to play good football and I want that. But, last season we lost eight games – that is a quarter of the season – playing that type of football. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. We had to find a balance in mixing it up at times.
“All the teams are competitive. St Mirren are bottom of the league and they already have 27 points. [Last season] I think Alloa got put down with 21 points so the gap has significantly closed. All the teams are playing for something whether that be promotion, automatic play-offs, getting into the play-offs, or they are involved in the relegation issue. Eight or nine teams still have a lot to play for at this stage of the season.”
But throughout that he says his men have justified their place at the top of the pile. “We have earned the right. We have been pretty consistent although there have been a few bumps along the way. It has been particularly satisfying the way they have handled the big games. Even when we conceded on Saturday so soon after scoring there was no real panic. They still believed they could get the win when a draw would have been fine. They kept going and got the win I felt they deserved against a good team.”