“WE’RE a little team who get bullied about,” said Martin Boyle sitting in the Motherwell press room, most likely without his dinner money. He was just one of the perceived Hibernian victims of some bruising confrontations over the last few days, but this was the day the little guys fought back again.
Just a few moments before Boyle’s arrival, his manager Neil Lennon had sat in the very same seat, bemoaning the physical punishment dished out to his men during a couple of rough and tumble games. “I don’t want to berate referees but there was a lot going on out there that he could’ve stamped down on,” said Lennon I don’t know what the foul count was but my players need better protection at times.
“There were 21 fouls against us on Tuesday night [in the 1-0 win over Hearts] and I don’t know how many there were today. John McGinn was getting fouled all over the place. I’m not talking about protection but I want fairness in the game.”
For all his protests, against a combative and Motherwell team that has become renowned for getting in your face, Hibs more than stood up to them as their presence is at last being felt in the Ladbrokes Premiership. There was nothing diminutive about the performance of this ‘little team’ which now has the chance of climbing into third place in the Scottish top flight if they beat Kilmarnock tomorrow night.
While Lennon was curious to see what the foul count was against his team on Saturday at Fir Park, the statistics show his team had 12 fouls against them. More curiously, they dished out 11 themselves. This was not a game where his Hibs team were pushed around and outschooled. They competed with Motherwell with a ferocious tenacity with a snarling midfield that wrestled this game away from their hosts. Hibs held their own here.
Motherwell may be big and imposing but their stature could not compete with the two men who buzzed around in green and white in the centre of the park. Lennon also moaned about the treatment meted out to McGinn, but the former St Mirren midfielder showed little fear as he went shoulder to shoulder with Allan Campbell, Motherwell’s young midfield patroller. In Dylan McGeouch, the Easter Road manager had a player capable of holding his own when it came to the physical battle his team were involved in on Saturday.
Lennon had said pre-match that getting the 24-year-old McGeouch tied down on a longer contract beyond the one that expires at the end of the season. At Fir Park he was phenomenal and critically important to Hibs’ second win in five days. His ability to pick a pass and dictate the tempo of play throughout meant Motherwell were chasing the ball, his attacking eye also meant Martin Boyle and Simon Murray had support burstring through in attack.
McGeouch has been at Easter Road since 2014 after initially making a temporary switch from Celtic. Since making it permanent, he has played a major part in getting the Edinburgh side back to the top flight. Now here, he looks more natural as ever.
“Dylan has been great, a joy to play with,” added Boyle. “He takes the ball in tight areas and makes the pitch big and Marv gives him and John the freedom to play. He’s played at the top level with Celtic and is having an injury-free season and if we can keep it like that he’s a big player for us.
“He’s been brilliant for us and has already played more minutes than last season. It’s up to the club if they want to tie him down but it would be disappointing if he walked away.”
There was no hint of panic in the Motherwell representatives who came in post match here, just glum faces darkened by a frank acceptance that this was far from their finest hour. To say it was their worst performance of the season probably wouldn’t be too far off the mark.
The euphoria of beating Rangers last weekend and making it to the Betfred Cup final will linger much longer than the disappointment from this, mostly because they know they can do better. While defeats at home last season generally just added to the melancholic mood at the prospect of another relegation fight, the frustration here is borne out of the fact they can do so much better.
Louis Moult, last week’s goal hero at Hampden, had his poorest display in a claret and amber shirt for some time, while his team-mates were so below par Stephen Robinson made three substitutes within eight minutes of the second half starting.
The road to redemption for them leads to Dingwall next week, while Hibs progressive path in the Premiership continues to Rugby Park tomorrow.