According to Lennon, the Tannadice club’s continued pursuit of Hibs – they were even top for a spell last week – is the least that should have been expected of a side who were still playing top-tier football this time last year.
“I mean, most teams who do come down are pretty strong,” said Lennon. “Some people might not see it that way. I know by the way they are talking it is a miracle and it is this, that and the other but I think they have got a lot of quality in their squad and a little bit of backing as well. So it doesn’t surprise me that they are up there.”
Lennon praised the way Ray McKinnon has settled in at United, inspiring them to a 14-match unbeaten run before Saturday’s 1-0 defeat at Dumbarton. They now trail Hibs by a point at the top before the teams meet for the penultimate time in the league at a sold-out Easter Road tonight.
“We know what’s at stake, we are four points clear [if we win],” said Lennon. “If we draw, we’re still top. If we lose, we are two points behind. So the gap is minimal either way but I think it is important psychologically for us to put in a good performance and win the game.
“It didn’t surprise me,” he added, with reference to United’s dogged refusal to let Hibs establish a commanding lead at the top. “He [McKinnon] has had a lot of chopping and changing to do and they have been pretty consistent until the weekend. He is doing a fine job there, Ray.”
But Lennon has stolen a march on United with his recruitment of new faces in recent weeks. Kris Commons, signed on an emergency loan from Celtic until 15 January, scored the winning goal in Saturday’s vital 2-1 win at Falkirk, which meant Hibs returned to the top of the table.
After the game Hibs confirmed the signing of former Motherwell winger Chris Humphrey until the end of the season. He is on standby to make his debut tonight.
“He is ready, he is fit and in contention,” said Lennon. “And we feel he will bring something which we haven’t really had, a bit of width, a bit of pace and a bit of directness as well. We have known him from Motherwell and he has played a lot of games at Preston at a very high level and he looks in good contention.”
Humphrey himself sounded unsure yesterday whether he would be thrust into such a big game so soon after signing. But Lennon sounded willing to unleash his pace at some stage this evening.
“It [whether he plays or not] is down to us, what we think,” said the manager. “It is a big game and a lot to take on board early on, so we have got all those things to think about.”
Meanwhile, Lennon revealed there have been no further talks with Celtic about extending Commons’ stay at Easter Road.
The midfielder is suffering from a heavy cold and is a doubt for tonight. Lennon was also cautious about the possibility of John McGinn, who hasn’t played since November following an ankle operation, featuring this evening.
“He (McGinn) has only trained minimally the last few days,” said Lennon. “We will gauge how he is tomorrow and see if there are any ill effects. He looked okay but he has not trained too much so I will have to be guided by the medical department on that one.”
On the possibility of Commons staying longer at Easter Road, Lennon said: “We’ve not really touched on it yet. It will be down to what Kris thinks as well obviously, and on how talks go with Celtic. I haven’t had a chance to sit down and talk about it.”