Hibs vow to learn from '˜embarrassing' Pittodrie rout

Forget a week, a day turned out to be a long time in football for Neil Lennon, who went from claiming on Friday that only Celtic were a better team than Hibernian to insisting just 24 hours later that they were worse than Cowdenbeath.

Aberdeen players flock round No 11 Gary Mackay-Steven, who scored an impressive hat-trick at Pittodrie on Saturday. Picture: SNS

Of course, you often need more than a pinch of salt when it comes to managers’ quotes, as Derek McInnes proved when he said his Easter Road counterpart’s pre-match comments played no part in inspiring Aberdeen’s best performance of the season.

The Dons were clearly 
motivated to show who remain Celtic’s closest rivals and proved that words are cheap when sweeping their opponents aside by inflicting both their heaviest and first away defeats since returning to the Premiership.

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Lennon tried switching formations and personnel but it made no difference on a day when Aberdeen were quite simply quicker, sharper and stronger both mentally and physically against players who simply failed to live up the their manager’s expectations.

Hence Lennon’s strong criticism afterwards of a side that felt harshly treated after only picking up a point at home to Celtic and Rangers but knew only too well that justice was certainly done in a defeat at Pittodrie that might even have been more emphatic.

Not that it wasn’t embarrassing enough, as midfielder Dylan McGeouch freely admitted when he said: “This was a massive game for us and we came here expecting to put on a performance and get a result and we let down ourselves, 
the club and the fans who 
travelled up the road.

“Obviously he’s [Lennon] not happy, what would you expect? He knows we’re capable of much more as a team. Everybody who played didn’t reach the standards we know we can play at. He let us know that, but I don’t think he had to rant and rave at us because we knew, at half-time and after the game, that it wasn’t good enough.

“We were outfought and we gave them slack goals and gave them a lift at home. They were able to express themselves when they got a few goals up and we were up against it.

“The fans who travelled up and everyone watching on TV will know it was embarrassing really, we know we have to work hard this week to put it right. We have to make sure something like this doesn’t happen to us again.”

Quickly, too, after a run of just one win and five points from the last six matches, with a derby visit to Tynecastle
sandwiched between visits from bottom-six strugglers Ross County and Kilmarnock prior to the winter shutdown.

Lennon refused to use fatigue after two intense matches against Celtic and Rangers as an excuse for this performance but his players looked tired from early on and exhausted after being run ragged for most of the 90 minutes.

A memorable Gary Mackay-Steven hat-trick followed Graeme Shinnie’s early opener that the former Celtic winger also played a key part in by cushioning Kenny McLean’s diagonal pass into the Dons captain’s path.

By the interval Mackay-Steven had produced the perfect finish to another slick move before dispossessing Efe Ambrose and adding to the Nigerian’s considerable comic cuts collection to make it 3-0.

His own personal third was another bit of magic, swapping passes with Stevie May before bending the ball round Ofir Marciano and even a last-minute own goal, as Anthony Stokes’ shot eventually deflected in off Shinnie, couldn’t take the gloss off 24 hours that were much more satisfying for McInnes.

After all, the Aberdeen manager approached the game asserting his side faced their toughest challenge for second place in four years only to end the day three points clear of Rangers and a significant nine ahead of Hibs.

Not that maintaining that advantage will be easy in the short term as they head to 
Celtic Park this weekend where they haven’t picked up a single point in the last 24 visits since Jimmy Calderwood’s side won 3-2 there over 13 years ago.

Given how quickly Lennon’s comments backfired at the weekend it’s no surprise that Aberdeen captain Shinnie is much more cautious about making any bold predictions about the outcome this time.

“We always feel we have the squad to do it [beat Celtic] but it is easy saying that, you have to go out and do it,” said Shinnie. “We didn’t do it last time but we want to go down there and do as well as we can.

“We want to stamp a bit of authority on the game and hopefully we can come out with the win. It is not going to be easy but we are in the right place going to Celtic Park.”