In the same week that Neil Lennon hit out at his critics, St Johnstone turned up at Easter Road and silenced theirs.
Dishing out Hibernian’s first home league defeat since December last year, the Perth side lived up to their reputation as the Leith club’s bogey team with a performance that was more than simply well-drilled and resolute.
On the ball, they were unflappable and used it well to carve out attacks right up to the end, earning the set piece that led to the winner.
“Maybe some nice things will be written and said about us now because I think we proved how good a side we are today,” said manager Tommy Wright. “We had four games, two to Celtic where we lost one narrowly and another where we went gung-ho and got what we deserved, Rangers beat us 5-1 in probably their best performance of the season and we lost 2-1 at Hearts.
“But I was never panicking, I know plenty of other people were – some so-called experts wanted to put the boot in. I’d like to know where their foot is now. The performance today was very satisfying.”
Since the most recent defeat by Celtic, the 6-0 mauling at the start of October, Saints have gone on a four-game winning streak, and yesterday’s triumph catapulted them above their hosts.
“Anyone who was at the game today would see we have good players and we can play,” added the Perth boss, whose only disappointment is that his men are struggling from the penalty spot. After two misses last week against St Mirren from Tony Watt and Liam Craig, it was Danny Swanson’s turn yesterday. But the character and ability in the St Johnstone ranks, allied to Hibs’ deficiencies on the day, rendered it moot by the time the final whistle sounded. “We went toe-to-toe with Hibs and in the end we came out on top,” Wright added.
“For me, it was pretty much the perfect away performance. We were dogged, we did our jobs but at the other end we were a real threat.
“I rate Lenny as one of the best managers in the country and his team are one of the most exciting teams in the league. So to come here and win is very pleasing.”
In the Famous Five Stand, Hibs fans unfurled a ‘One Neil Lennon’ banner and the chant reverberated around the ground ahead of kick-off. The Easter Road manager may have queried the validity of the government’s One Scotland slogans following some sickening events last week but the support was intent on proving it is one Hibernian as the fans rallied behind their manager.
The Hibs players took to the pitch with the same intentions but they struggled to find any bounce, looking flat and quickly running out of ideas on how to break down a very organised and competitive McDiarmid Park side.
It meant that while Hibs pressed and made some territorial gains, they rarely threatened the away defence, who swept up anything in their own third, with well-timed blocks, dominant headers or intelligent reading of the play, and looked pretty comfortable throughout the majority of the 90 minutes. Efforts from the likes of Emerson Hyndman and Martin Boyle soared over, while Zander Clark had to dive to foil a swerving Stevie Mallan strike, as Hibs were kept at bay and forced to unleash long-range strikes.
“Everything went wrong,” said Hibs assistant manager Garry Parker, who addressed the media instead of Lennon. “I’ve never seen a team pass to the opposition so much in my life. It wasn’t good at all. Going forward we didn’t test their keeper enough. I think that is the poorest performance at home since we have been at Hibs.
“We can’t blame midweek, they played midweek too. But who came out the game with any credit going forward? Nobody. And that is so disappointing.”
St Johnstone definitely had the better of the goal attempts, with the bar denying 18-year-old Tristan Nydam in the first half and goalkeeper Adam Bogdan pulling off a diving penalty stop to foil former Hibs attacker Swanson in the 65th minute. In between, Tony Watt should have done better from a header after Drey Wright had fizzed a cross in from the right at the start of the second half.
At the other end Hibs striker Jamie Maclaren came close with a header that dipped narrowly over the bar but St Johnstone finally got the breakthrough in the 89th minute when David Wotherspoon sent a free-kick into the area and Joe Shaughnessy rose to power a header past Bogdan.