It was a familiar tale of defensive woe for the club currently propping up the Ladbrokes Premiership table on Saturday as Dundee went to Easter Road, gave a very good account of themselves and once again came away with nothing to show for their efforts.
They’re not lacking in talent at the back. Centre-half Jack Hendry and defensive midfielder Glen Kamara have been two of the better signings this past summer, while Josh Meekings, Kevin Holt and Cammy Kerr, the other three members of Saturday’s back four in the 2-1 defeat, are all decent players at their positions, maybe even above average in Scottish top-flight terms.
Even without goalkeeper Scott Bain, left out of the squad by boss Neil McCann for the trip to Easter Road after a much-publicised bust-up, they should still have had enough in defence to make things difficult for Neil Lennon’s hosts, and yet they were once again in a generous mood.
Scored in rare periods where Hibs were undoubtedly the side on top, both of the home side’s goals were preventable and part of an increasingly alarming trend for the league’s leakiest defence – the only club without a clean sheet to this point.
“I don’t know why it is,” said Kerr when asked after the match to explain the defensive issues. “We need to stop conceding goals. We have got good players. We are doing everything we can to put it right. It’s errors – I wouldn’t say they are terrible errors on the pitch, it’s just small things.
“I wouldn’t say it’s hard to stay positive. It wasn’t as if we were camped in for 90 minutes and we weren’t playing well or creating chances or if the boys looked down in training I would maybe look a bit concerned, but I can honestly say that isn’t the case.
“The break has come at a bad time. We are so close to being where we want to be, I genuinely believe that and I would rather there was a game coming up. We need to keep working away because everyone could see that was a good performance and if we can cut out the small mistakes, I am positive things will change.”
The performance was positive against a Hibs side that went into the match off the back of three successive wins. They showed strength of character to fight back from losing a goal inside 62 seconds after Martin Boyle was allowed to drive from the halfway line and shoot past deputy keeper Elliott Parish from just inside the area. Marcus Haber responded on 21 minutes and the away side were the stronger team for the duration of the half.
Things began to turn against them when two key incidents went the other way in the space of four minutes. McCann was incensed Anthony Stokes did not see red for what he described as a punch to Hendry’s “balls” amid a second-half melee. That came after Ofir Marciano pulled off a save of the season contender to deny Faissal El Bakhtaoui.
When Simon Murray put the home side back in front there only looked like being one winner as the Hibs defence – a unit which had more than a few questions asked of it earlier in the season – held firm again. Haber’s goal was the first Lennon’s side have conceded on their current four-game winning streak. “It probably took us a few weeks to get a proper partnership going,” said man of the match Paul Hanlon about his centre-back pairing with Efe Ambrose. “I was injured when he came in last season so we didn’t play much and I missed most of pre-season as well. It takes time, especially in the centre of defence. I think we have a really good one just now.
“I thought towards the end of the first half we looked leggy and off the pace. Ofir made an unbelievable save that kept us in the match and we went from strength to strength after that.
“The gaffer told us tiredness wasn’t an excuse, it was more a mental thing than anything. We all believed that.”