Even though they bucked the trend of their season so far, opening the scoring for the first time in the 2017/18 league campaign, it was defensive frailties which again came back to haunt them. The Hibs manager has never been one to shy away from criticising his players if he feels they deserve it, and he wasn’t in the mood to hide his true feelings after the second-half capitulation.
“I have a very experienced back four, big boys, and an international goalkeeper. And they didn’t lead, they didn’t manage the game,” vented Lennon. “I can’t sugar-coat that last half hour – it’s not good enough and it’s not acceptable for the supporters either.
“If the players don’t like what I am saying publicly I do not care. We gave them all the warnings, we told them at half-time, and if they are not big enough to take responsibility on the pitch then I’ll have to change it, and I will.
“I have always had a decent reaction from them before. They’ll just have to accept what I say.”
Both teams started with the same XI as the previous week, which perhaps played into the home side’s hands. Hibs attacked their opponents 3-5-2 formation exactly in the manner they should across the first 60 minutes. They moved the ball swiftly into the wide areas, often switching play from across the other side of the park, to allow the full-back and wide midfielder to double up on Motherwell’s wing-back.
The game’s first chance came through this route with John McGinn getting over to the left and crossing for Simon Murray, who stabbed his shot wide at the front post.
Brandon Barker was next to forage down the wing and whip a cross into the centre. When the loose ball was picked up by Anthony Stokes, he was bundled to the ground by Carl McHugh, though referee Barry Cook was unmoved.
Motherwell had a claim of their own when Richard Tait went down, only to be booked for diving, before Cook eventually relented and pointed to the spot when Martin Boyle hit the deck. It appeared to be a weaker claim than the Stokes incident, but the striker wasn’t going to dwell on the irony as he confidently dispatched the ball past Trevor Carson from 12 yards.
Though suspect defensively, Motherwell had their fair share of chances at the other end. Andy Rose consistently got up to support striker Ryan Bowman and Louis Moult, who were more than a handful on their own for the Hibs back-line to deal with.
Moult should have done better with a header from close range, before the striker passed up another excellent chance, hitting the bar from ten yards after running on to a Rose cut-back. Bowman was then guilty of wasteful finishing five minutes later as another cut-back from the wing, this time via the boot of Chris Cadden, was skewed wide of goal.
The game looked to have been killed off as a contest when Stokes found the back of the net for a second time. Motherwell centre-back Cedric Kipre was guilty of dallying on the ball on the edge of his own penalty area, allowing the striker to steal in and prod an instinctive finish into the top corner of the net.
Never one to hesitate over making a change, Well boss Stephen Robinson brought on Craig Tanner for Rose, switching to a 3-4-3 formation with Tanner operating just behind the two strikers. Needless to say, the substitute had an immediate impact.
Just three minutes after entering the fray, Tanner swung in a sumptuous free-kick which Moult headed into the back of the net from inside the six-yard box. Less than 60 seconds later Tanner was at it again, cutting back for Bowman to have two strikes at goal, both of which were blocked by Paul Hanlon.
Hibs were reeling and Motherwell were relentless. Wave after wave of attacks soon saw the visitors break through for a second time. Again it was a substitute who was centrally involved, as Gael Bigirimana picked out Moult on the edge of the box. Granted space to turn by Efe Ambrose, the striker fired a low shot beyond Ofir Marciano.
It was all one-way traffic at that point but, despite threatening on numerous other occasions, the visitors couldn’t quite find the final ball to get a winner. Instead, it was the hosts who would go closest as Motherwell began to tire. Anthony Stokes stepped up to take a 90th minute free-kick, but curled his effort just over the crossbar.