Three points behind with three games of the league campaign remaining, Neil Lennon claims a draw would not be a disaster when Hibernian visit Aberdeen tomorrow. Not that his men will target anything other than victory.
The Leith boss, who has seen his men settle back into the top tier with remarkable ease this term, has ensured they have done so by entertaining their fans with a fluid, fast-paced and attacking brand of football. It has helped them to a run of results which features only one league defeat – by champions Celtic – since the turn of the year and is bolstered by a healthy goal return.
So, while he says the Pittodrie pitch may force a more direct style of play, or a few minor tweaks to their creative tactics, the understanding of exactly what rests on the outcome will not induce a more cautious approach, according to the manager.
“I have never approached football that defensive way because I think it can work for you for a short period of time but then teams work you out and you have to be absolutely bang on it every week,” said Lennon.
“I don’t have the players and don’t want to sign the players I would need to do that. I want players like Scott Allan or Martin Boyle or Brandon Barker or Flo Kamberi, I want them to do what they are good at and that is attack and make life difficult for the opposition. It is easy to set your team up defensively, far easier to do that than to go and attack. It is easy to put up two banks of four but you don’t learn anything from that in the long run.”
The last time the two teams met, Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes admitted that the host outfit had “murdered” his side in a second half that yielded two goals but could have been even more. It was a result that offered the capital side hope and allowed them to switch their focus away from the teams on their tail and channel all their energies into finding a way to overhaul Rangers and Aberdeen ahead of them.
While they have succeeding in drawing level with the rattled Ibrox side, Aberdeen have proved more dogged in defending their position. But a win tomorrow would finally lift Hibs above them with only two games remaining.
While Hibs will face Edinburgh rivals Hearts at Tynecastle next midweek before wrapping things up with a home game against Rangers, Aberdeen take on Rangers and then Celtic, having failed to take even a point from either in their six previous head to heads this term.
“I can’t speak on behalf of the Aberdeen players or manager but they have three difficult games, if you include us, and we have three difficult games as well,” Lennon added. “These two away grounds we are going to are as tough as any in the division and then we have Rangers at home.
“We are not looking too far ahead, we are just looking at each individual game and we know that each game is different. We will be facing different opposition, different styles and we will be away from home on Saturday so we will have to adapt.”
The last trip there ended in a 4-1 rout, Lennon tagging that game as “our most damaging result of the season”.
“There were mitigating circumstances but it was a very low level performance from us and Aberdeen played very well,” he said. “We weren’t happy with that. But in the third game, at Easter Road, we were fantastic.
“We have been in that sort of form but we know it can all change again in one game. It is important that we try to stay in the same mindset and not get too over confident or complacent. There has been no evidence of that in the past six or seven weeks and we will prepare for this game the same way we have prepared for the rest of them.
“Psychologically, Rangers have had a tough week. But you can’t write them off in the race for second either. Everyone will be looking for reaction.
“Obviously they’ve lost Graeme now, as well, and that can be disruptive for the players. But we’re not ruling Rangers out of it just yet.
“We can only take care of our own side of things and it’s important that we don’t lose this game. But we’re not going in with the mindset of thinking a point will do. We’re going there to win the game.”
It is a mouthwatering end to the season and one that everyone at Hibs is relishing, according to the man who brought them back from the Championship doldrums.
“We are enjoying the big games and this is just the next one,” said Lennon. “It is the most important one because it is the current one. Both teams go into it on the back of two very good wins.
“It is important we don’t lose because we don’t want to give Aberdeen a six-point buffer going into the last two games. That would make it really difficult to finish second.”
Recent results, against Celtic, when they forced the champions to postpone their title party, and then the thriller against Kilmarnock last weekend, have bolstered the belief at Hibs’ East Mains training ground that they are seeing out their season in top form.
“Aberdeen are strong and effective, well organised and they have good players in the final third who can really hurt you,” added Lennon. “At set plays they are very good as well. It is a different type of game from Celtic and Kilmarnock and we will endeavour to get the ball down and attack. That is the way the players are built. You have to make other teams defend as well at times.”
Even without the club’s Player of the Year, Dylan McGeouch, Hibs rattled five goals past the in-form Rugby Park side and put on a display that proved they have the bit between their teeth. The midfielder is a doubt again this weekend due to the small facial fracture sustained against Celtic. He has a Zorro-style protective mask but his manager says he has not decided whether to risk him. “It is taking a bit of getting used to. It is a bit awkward for him so we will see how he feels.”