Neil Lennon has admitted even he was surprised by how well Hibs played as his side took a grip on the Championship title race with an emphatic victory over Dundee United.
Inspired by an impressive performance from debutant Chris Humphrey, Hibs swept United aside with two goals inside the first half an hour from Jason Cummings. John McGinn, making his first appearance since November, returned after ankle surgery to add a third goal three minutes after coming on.
Lennon, the Hibs manager, cautiously described the victory as “a marker” when asked for its significance in the terms of the title race. Hibs are now four points clear of United with the teams meeting only once more this season, at Tannadice in March.
“It gives us a boost, and psychologically it gives the fans a lift but nothing more,” he said.
Lennon was taken aback at just how quickly a team featuring new signing Humphrey clicked into gear.
“It has made me proud and surprised me – I was not expecting to play as strongly as that,” he said. “We did lack a bit of physicality so we were a bit worried about set-pieces and things like that. We gambled a bit with the formation but it paid off.
“We looked like we might score every time we attacked, particularly in the first-half,” he added. “They showed their big game mentality because there was a lot of pressure or at least a lot of build up – we tried to play it down.”
Lennon confessed he’d been torn about giving Humphrey, who set up the first two goals, such a quick debut. The player, whose last club was Preston North End, has not played since October.
“He is a good player, came in on Monday and stood out in training – he has not played for a while obviously. It was a bit of a gamble and we agonised about the team formation.
“Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Thankfully he played well and started well and was aided by some other good performances – I thought (Martin) Boyle was outstanding as well.
As for McGinn’s strike after replacing Kris Commons, Lennon said: “I didn’t see it coming! We brought him in to shore things up – he only trained Wednesday, Thursday. For him to score is the icing on the cake.”
United manager Ray McKinnon dismissed suggestions the result was a damaging blow to his side’s title ambitions.
“It has not been like us to give away cheap goals like that,” he said. “But we didn’t deserve anything. Four points is nothing in this league – it’s a couple of draws for Hibs and we could be bang in there. But if you’d told me at the start of the season we would be four points behind with 16, 17 games to go, I’d have bitten your hand off.”