Neil Lennon’s presence looms so menacingly over the Easter Road dressing room that he doesn’t even have to be in it for his team to respond in a positive manner.
Typically, Saturday’s match against Partick Thistle would have been one of those days when the Hibernian squad would have received a forthright earbashing from their fiery head coach.
The hosts hadn’t performed at all in the first half. Barring winger Martin Boyle and goalkeeper Cammy Bell, who didn’t have much to do, every player in a green-and-white kit performed below their usual standards.
Trudging into the dressing room they were saved from Lennon’s fury by the manager’s touchline ban, handed down by the SFA following a tirade against Kevin Clancy in February’s 2-2 draw with Kilmarnock.
Instead, they gave themselves a good shake and, while they had to ride their luck with Partick Thistle having a goal disallowed for offside, they eventually managed to dig out the win.
“We knew ourselves that it was flat and below the standards that we’ve set,” said Paul Hanlon, who added a second five minutes after Jamie Maclaren’s opener. “It was just a case of lifting ourselves up. We’ve got a lot of boys saying their bit as well. There’s a number of them who are passionate about this club, passionate about winning and have that winning mentality.
“There’s plenty of experience in the changing room who can help when the manager is not there.”
The result moved Hibs to within four points of Rangers and Aberdeen in the battle for second place. Many would have been forgiven for scoffing at Lennon’s insistence that Hibs, still in the Championship at the time, could finish best of the rest behind Celtic this season. However, with matches against relegation strugglers Hamilton and Ross County before the split, they are undoubtedly a serious contender to nab the honour.
With Aberdeen travelling to Motherwell and Hearts, and Rangers having played a game more, Hibs must fancy their chances of closing the gap. To do so they must stay focused and not reproduce another performance like Saturday’s opening 45 minutes.
“The manager made the point about talking about the three fixtures before the split,” said Hanlon. “He knows that the bigger games take care of themselves but with this block of three we could drop our standards.”
Once the next two matches are out of the way it’ll be five consecutive battles against the elite of Scottish football, though Hanlon reckons they’ve got the perfect man in charge to help them take on such a pressurised run of fixtures.
“His team talks are brilliant. He gets you so fired up in the big games, Hearts games, it’s just exactly what you need,” said the centre-back.
“He’s getting the best out of players this year. You can see that with Martin Boyle, how much he’s brought him on this year, just by giving him confidence and belief that he’s one of our best players and can cause trouble to any team. Week in and week out he’s doing that and he did it with his part in the first goal which got us going.”
For Thistle the lesson from Saturday was about extracting the positives and forgetting the result. They may have only lost by one goal fewer than their previous trip to the capital – a 3-0 defeat at Hearts two weeks prior – but they acquitted themselves much more admirably on this occasion.
“We were the better team for large spells. We got a decision against us and before you know it we are 1-0 down which was so disappointing,” said centre-back Baily Cargill, who looked to have opened the scoring before the linesman’s flag intervened with Miles Storey adjudged to have been standing in the goalkeeper’s sight-line while in an offside position.
“I watched it back and I think it is harsh for it to be disallowed. Sometimes you don’t get those decisions and the luck is against us right now.
“We can’t dwell on this now and we must concentrate on Ross County.”