Questions of character have been a recurring theme during Hibernian’s unwanted sojourn in the Championship. After losing out in their top-of-the-table showdown with Dundee United the previous week, Saturday’s match with Dumbarton took on far more significance than would normally be accorded to a meeting between the league leaders and the side sitting in second bottom spot.
Neil Lennon’s side passed the exam on this occasion. The unease that surfaces with any Hibs fans when they sense they may be about to hit the sort of wobble which has undermined their chances of making an automatic return to the Premiership in the two previous campaigns was stilled thanks to a Paul Hanlon goal seconds before half-time and a 76th-minute strike from the persistent Brian Graham. It wasn’t that convincing but, in the circumstances, the three points were all that mattered.
For Dumbarton, this game represented a pride salvaging operation for themselves and their supporters after their cup humiliation at the hands of Bonnyrigg Rose. They were never going to be anything other than obstinate opponents, determined to prove a point and, for the opening 45 minutes at least, they were also worth one such was the determined display they put on. The timing of the breakthrough by Hanlon was critical and, as the part-timers tired in the closing stages, Graham was able to capitalise to seal the win.
Lennon conceded his men were not at their best but felt they grew stronger as the game progressed and should have won by a greater margin. It was not a 90 minutes where Hibs created a surfeit of chances which, along with ring-rustiness, meant that it wasn’t a scoring return to first-team action for Jason Cummings, pictured, back after a six-week absence after being dropped for some indifferent displays. “I was satisfied with his performance,” remarked the Hibs manager, who also acknowledged that Cummings’ extended omission had been a source of hurt for a player who still remains the club’s leading scorer for the season. However, Lennon was quick to add: “He’s responded well, he’s looked sharp in training. I didn’t think there was much wrong with his work rate today, just the ball didn’t drop for him.
“He knows, by his own admission, that he wasn’t playing as well. Boyler [Martin Boyle] came in and did really well and he’s just had to bide his time.”
Cummings, still suffering from the aftermath of a heavy cold that nearly kept him out of the game, expressed a mixture of delight and relief at being back in the team but accepted his manager’s tough love approach had been justified. “When I was dropped I wasn’t playing that well,” he acknowledged. “I hadn’t scored for a few games and the manager had the right to try someone else.
“It did take me a wee bit by surprise because it’s never really happened to me before. But it happens to every player, they have ups and downs. It’s been a bit of a weird season but it’s the team that matters. The team have been playing well without me. I’m now just glad to be back”.
Cummings’ immediate priority is to stay in the starting XI. The pressure won’t be any less if he does keep his place – a tough away fixture at Cappielow. “Every game’s massive now with Dundee United down our throats. So next week’s against Morton will be huge as well and I want to be a part of it.”