Neil Lennon was yesterday left to rue the concession of two first-half goals for the second consecutive cup semi-final. However, the Hibernian manager found himself in more forgiving mood about yesterday’s 4-2 Betfred Cup loss to Celtic than was the case with the 3-2 defeat by Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup final six months ago.
Hibs staged a valiant but vain comeback yesterday, as they did on their last Hampden visit. But Lennon presented the requirement to mount one against Brendan Rodgers’ men as regrettable – firmly at odds with the “pathetic” label he placed on the early efforts of his team in April.
“I thought in the throes of the game we were a lot better in terms of the way we moved the ball,” he said. “We didn’t maybe affect them in the first half the way we would have liked and we didn’t get the ball out to [Brandon] Barker as much as we would have liked. The second half was certainly a lot better. The [Aberdeen] semi final was a lot different to the way we played today up against superior opposition.
“To be fair, it wasn’t lack of effort first half. The second goal is 42 minutes, it is the manner of it , a set play which we should defend better. So going in at half time you have to make decisions and you have to make changes. We did that and there was a lot of belief about them second half. Getting the goal early in the half gave them a bit of a lift but the third goal was sloppy from our part of view because we had enough bodies to deal with it. But overall in the throes of the game our football was very, very good at times and we were very forceful.
“We had a mountain to climb but we came back very strongly and almost got something out the the game. You can’t give a team of that calibre a head start though.”
The tie turned on the introductions of Martin Boyle and Steven Whittaker at the interval, Lennon admitting he was forced into a tactical reshuffle at what was then “the point of no return”. Boyle was a surprise omission from the starting line-up, but his manager afterwards explained this was for non-football reasons.
“Martin has had a difficult week privately, he missed training on Thursday, so we had to concern ourselves with his state of mind and how he was feeling. It is a private matter so hopefully he will recover. It looks like he has done pretty quickly, to be fair. And Steven has had a niggle and wasn’t fit to start, but they made a difference and gave us balance in the wider areas.”
The game marked the second in succession that Hibs have scored twice against Celtic – their double at Parkhead three weeks ago earning a point that came close to being all three.
“We’re getting closer,” Lennon said. “There’s a good mentality in the team, the football is good, they try to play and create chances, but there will be some who’ll have regrets. The majority of them left everything out there so that pleases me. But they [Celtic] are just a little bit better in certain areas.”