Queen of the South must have skulked out of Leith grateful for small mercies. This was a match that illustrated why Hibernian are setting the pace at the top of the table and seem unlikely to be caught.
As Dundee United were dropping points elsewhere, Neil Lennon’s men were consolidating their lead with a performance few, if any, in the division would have been able to live with. Queen of the South certainly couldn’t and should be relieved that the scoreline was not any more embarrassing.
Hibs were two up by half-time and while the Queen of the South interim manager, Jim Thomson, talked of individual errors and suggested that things might have been different had they managed to keep it to 1-0 at the interval, the fact is if they had somehow headed up the tunnel just one behind it would have constituted a minor miracle.
Even by that stage it could have been half a dozen, and the Easter Road club started the second half with even more intent, swarming all over their guests, who are now without a league win in seven, playing some fabulous, composed and classy football.
“In my time as a manager, at any club, that’s one of the best performances I’ve seen from a team against any opposition,” said Lennon. “It could have been double the score, comfortably. We look powerful, intense, hungry – the quality of the football and the chances we created was superb. I got everything I wanted and it was a good benchmark.”
It was a rampant display and, but for the defiant Lee Robinson in the Queens goal, any flicker of hope would have been long extinguished.
With Jason Cummings still restricted to a place on the Hibs bench, Brian Graham was given his chance, replacing Grant Holt in the starting line-up, and he grabbed the opportunity with a bullish start. There were just seven minutes on the clock when he pounced. Andrew Shinnie’s free-kick dropped for Darren McGregor and the centre-back, who was lauded by his manager and has already been touted for a Scotland call-up by team-mates, rattled in a shot. Grant Anderson on the line managed to block that but as he and Robinson tried to clear, Graham reacted to slam the ball high into the roof of the net.
It was Graham’s tenth of the season and his fourth for Hibs. His strike partner, Martin Boyle, could have had four in this game alone. But, having blown the first three chances that came his way, he finally made one count. “I said to Martin at half-time that ‘you can sit there and feel sorry for yourself or you can keep going and get yourself a goal’,” stated his manager. “To be fair he scored a wonderful goal.”
That came in the 66th minute and wrapped things up after the inspiring John McGinn had shrugged off his ongoing ankle issues to drill a ball across goal that appeared to be turned in by the dejected Chris Higgins to give Hibs their comfortable half-time advantage.
Queen of the South had mustered an effort from Marc Millar, which rattled off Ofir Marciano’s post, and had a breakaway in the second half but other than that it was one-way traffic.
The third goal came in the 52nd minute. With both Hibs full-backs getting further and further upfield, both Lewis Stevenson and David Gray had become a goal threat and it was the captain who finally converted. Having won the corner, Gray then dashed to the near post to flick McGinn’s delivery past Robinson.
Lennon confessed that McGinn had not trained in the days leading up to the match and had to be talked into delaying surgery on his ankle. When the Scotland midfielder turns in performances like this one, his manager’s stance is understandable.
“If he’s not 100 per cent fit, I would hate to see him when he is,” said Lennon. “He’s magnificent. He was really doubtful in his own mind on Thursday, whether to even play or get the surgery over and done with. It is up to John when he goes for it but if he keeps playing like that, I hope it’s May!”
Totally at ease and playing the kind of football that enhances their title credentials, Hibs were on course to dish out a skelping. But while they could only equal their best result of the season – a 4-0 victory over Morton – this was undoubtedly their best display. Defensively they were sound, in midfield they had the balance and the strength in depth to send on Dylan McGeouch when Fraser Fyvie was forced off with a groin problem, and up front, while chances are not quite converted with the regularity they might be, they are being created in plentiful numbers.
Boyle is a big part of that and he got his just rewards in the 66th minute. Bursting through four red shirts and fighting to stay on his feet as he ran at Robinson, the pacy forward just lashed at it, delighted to finally see the net bulge. It was a clinical finish in a display that was as clinical as any this season.