Hibernian defender Ryan Porteous insists Neil Lennon has not lost the dressing room, but has acknowledged that the players risk driving the head coach away if they do not remedy an alarming drop in form.
After weeks of biting his tongue over fears it could damage his team’s confidence even more amid a seven-game winless run, Lennon launched a furious behind-closed-doors broadside at the squad in the wake of Wednesday’s 2-2 draw at home to St Mirren.
The post-match inquest lasted over an hour and Porteous, who rescued a point with a 72nd-minute header as Hibs twice came from behind to claim a point, admits the former Celtic manager was right to speak his mind.
However, as questions are asked about why Hibs have not won a game since thrashing Hamilton 6-0 over two months ago to go second in the table, the Scotland Under-21 internationalist is adamant that Lennon still has the support of the players.
Porteous, 19, said: “We’re really lucky to have the manager. A lot of people are saying he’s lost the changing room but that’s nonsense.
“I think the main thing is that we don’t lose him because he’s the best manager we’ve had in years and it would be terrible if we lost him. He definitely had a lot to say after the game. Everyone knows that he is a passionate guy and wants to win every game and when it’s not going our way he’ll go through us. That’s everything we deserve.
“The criticism from the manager is fair, maybe he has been playing it down for the last couple of weeks, trying to get our confidence up.
“But there is no excuse for that performance and it is all our fault, we’ve got no-one else to blame apart from ourselves.
“He said to us before the game and at half-time that there is only going to be one team that costs us the game and it would be ourselves, and that’s what happened.”
Although Lennon kept his criticism of the players private this time by dispatching his assistant Garry Parker to face the media, the 47-year-old has not held back in the past from publicly criticising the squad – something which over the last two seasons has tended to achieve the desired result of kick-starting the team’s form.
Lennon branded the players “unprofessional” and “amateur” following a lacklustre loss to rivals Hearts at the end of last season, but Porteous insists both he and his team-mates know not to take his scathing attacks personally. He said: “I don’t think anyone will take it to heart. We know the gaffer knows best and he’s doing it to better us, he’s doing it because he knows we’re better players but just not showing it.
“I’ve seen him worse but he’s right, everyone down there feels exactly what he feels – we’re gutted. Everyone listens to what he says and no-one answers back because he knows best, I don’t think we’ve earned the right to answer him back. Maybe if we’re sitting second, third or fourth we can answer him back because we’re doing well but when we’re not doing well, he knows best.
“We have to listen to him and take it on board.
“You can’t not have respect for someone who has done it all as a player and manager. We’re really lucky to have him.”
Hibs, who travel to Hamilton tomorrow, may at least have shown fighting qualities to claim a share of the spoils on Wednesday, but a barren run has seen the Easter Road side collect only three points from a possible 21.
Adam Hammill opened the scoring with a breathtaking strike from inside his own half before Oli Shaw levelled for the hosts.
An Efe Ambrose own goal saw Saints retake the lead before Porteous headed in a Stevie Mallan corner.
Parker claimed too many players are underperforming and Porteous does not disagree. He said: “The gaffer can’t keep the same team if there is no consistency, there are only a handful of players in there who have been consistent week-in, week-out and we need to get that.
“We should be beating St Mirren at home and it’s not good enough, but we can build on it.
“I don’t think their first goal is really avoidable, it’s a great goal but the second one was a set play and we should be defending those with our lives.
“Scoring two goals at home against St Mirren should be enough to win the game.”