When Neil Lennon lost the services of Dylan McGeouch, John McGinn and Scott Allan in the summer, he knew he had his work cut out trying to remould his midfield but, in securing the club’s top scorer from last season, Florian Kamberi, on a permanent deal, and luring Jamie Maclaren back for another loan spell, he believed he has little to worry about in the forward area.
But the Swiss striker, below, has managed only one goal in his last nine appearances, while his Aussie mate, who proved the perfect foil for him last term, has managed only one goal all season.
That return has frustrated their manager and cost the team points. On Saturday, the Easter Road side might have claimed all three and forced their way into the top six. Instead, an insipid and unconvincing spot-kick by Kamberi, in the 69th minute, helped Liam Kelly to make the save and allowed Livingston to cling to their one-goal advantage until the 80th minute when young defender Ryan Porteous’ diving header salvaged a share of the spoils.
The draw was less than Lennon believed his team’s overall play merited. Failing to make the most of opportunities riled, with Kamberi the focus of most of his frustration.
But Oli Shaw also passed up openings, so too had Martin Boyle, while Maclaren’s finishing was just as meek. But shown up against Livingston counterparts who rarely skimp on effort or committment, it was the workrate and sloppiness the Hibs head coach was most unhappy with.
It prompted furious post-match warnings that he may have to look elsewhere for solutions to the side’s missing clinical edge when the transfer window opens.
With the match coming after games against Celtic and Rangers and then a trip to Ibrox before hosting city rivals Hearts, Lennon had taken the opportunity to rejig the starting line-up, bringing on academy graduates as he chose to rest some, provide a proverbial boot to the backside of others and find a way to compensate for the absence of the injured Stevie Mallan.
It offered Sean Mackie the chance to make his first start for the club, building on his 45 minutes against Celtic the week before. It is an opportunity the 20-year-old has been hankering after since he was a kid. Released by the club as a teenager, he has battled his way back into the fold and rather than incur the wrath of his boss for a lack of commitment, he has had to prove his single-mindedness, cutting back on his other love – lawn bowls.
“He said I was playing bowls a bit too much and he wants me to stick to the football. It was just a hobby and it helped take my mind off football,” said Mackie. “But he wants me to try to better myself as best I can and coming in on Sundays to do a bit extra is one of the best ways of getting better. Sometimes I was playing bowls instead but now I am taking all that into consideration because I want to do well.
“I have been coming in to do a bit extra and I do feel the benefits and I am now making the breakthrough. I wasn’t as big as I am now but being in the gym has helped me, it has beefed me up a bit and that means I can compete at this level so it has been worth it.”
In the 56th minute Kamberi was outmuscled as Declan Gallagher played a long ball forward for the clinical Ryan Hardie to dart on to and dink past the outrushing Adam Bogdan.
“To be fair, it wasn’t a good goal to lose,” admitted Mackie, “but then we had a penalty to get back into it but Flo missed. In the end we did well to still get a point out of it but I thought we were the dominant team.”
Livingston were every bit a match for them in the first half and although Hibs did muster more of a threat in the second half, it took them until the 80th minute to level and they had to rely on a defender to get the goal as Porteous headed home Daryl Horgan’s cross.
It meant Hibs were able to take something from the game but it did little to soothe NeilLennon.