Neil Lennon will welcome Paul Hanlon and Darren McGregor back into the ranks for tomorrow’s league fixture but he says that there is still a void between his squad and the one his Pittodrie counterpart Derek McInnes has at his disposal.
Currently sitting two places above the Leith side, Aberdeen are the only one of their main challengers to have gleaned maximum points from head to heads with the Premiership newcomers this term. That is something that irks the Hibernian players and staff and is something they hope to address at Easter Road, but Lennon says he has to be realistic about what his men are up against, even if he does back them to come out on top.
Asked if the eight-point gap reflected the difference between the squads, Lennon said: “Yes. I think the depth they have, they have been building this for three or four years. They have had a bit of investment, they haven’t spent millions, but he has got good players in and they do have strength in depth, a little bit more than us, and our challenge, if we can, is to get to that level on a consistent basis.
“They’ve got goals from midfield, they have goals from wide areas, goals from strikers. Particularly at home they are a very formidable side.”
Away from home they are still a daunting prospect. Their record of eight wins, two draws and three defeats is exactly the same as their home return. “You can see the consistency Derek has brought there,” added Lennon. “They had a good win last week, they had a good win the previous week, they’re a formidable opponent at this level.”
McInnes’ men have won their last four games, rattling in 14 goals. But the fact they have given away five at the other end will offer their Leith hosts encouragement.
Fresh from a weekend off, Lennon knows his men went into that mini break with some solid momentum. But despite fearing that rhythm may have been disrupted, he says the break was necessary after a tough run.
“We had five games in 13 days which was heavy, I thought it was relatively unfair, but it’s just the way the fixtures fell. In that we had Hearts away, Celtic away and Rangers away, Dundee as well, really tough games. So to win three out of four was really pleasing. It’s been bright and we’re looking forward to what should be a cracking game against an excellent side.”
His men have a desire to prove they are a better side than the one that succumbed to the same opposition, so meekly, in December.
“I don’t think it will linger but I think there will be an incentive there,” he said of that 4-1 loss. “Aberdeen have beaten us the last three times we have played. To be fair there was fatigue the last time but you have to give credit to them, they were excellent.
“That was probably the best performance against us of any team this season. They were very good. So it’s going to be a tough game, but one we are relishing.”