Chris McLaughlin's words of the weekend: Hibs live up to Neil Lennon's billing

Hibs head coach Neil Lennon and Celtic counterpart Brendan Rodgers
Neil Lennon's Hibs got the better Brendan Rodgers' champions elect on Saturday

BBC Scotland's senior football reporter, Chris McLaughlin, analyses a talking point from the weekend's action, asking what's behind the words.

"That's as good as we've played all season, when you take into context the opposition and the circumstances, and it was so important to win to keep the push for second place going."
Hibernian head coach Neil Lennon after his side's 2-1 win over Celtic

As the final whistle sounded at Easter Road, I hit send on my match report and started my usual mad dash from the back of the main stand, where I had been writing the BBC match report, to the tunnel area for the post-match interviews.

On my way through the maze of corridors that leads from the back stairs to the dressing rooms and tunnels, I bumped into a fairly sheepish looking official from the Scottish Professional Football League who was hurriedly putting away a redundant pop-up stage that had been brought along in case the visitors wrapped up the league title.

The room he was stuffing it into also contained flags and boards congratulating the league winners for season 2017-2018. The usual party paraphernalia, except this time there was to be no party.

My imagination wandered to an image of Neil Lennon telling his Hibernian players to poke their noses in for a look before they left the dressing room to face reigning champions Celtic. They certainly played like they'd had a peek.

Following their Scottish Cup semi-final defeat by Aberdeen last year, Hibs' head coach said: "We can play and I think we're the second best team in the country.

"We should have won the game. If we add a couple of players, we'll be a team to be reckoned with."

Media eyebrows were raised. It sounded more like defiance driven by anger, but he's already proved the second part of the claim to be absolutely bang on. Hibs are back from the Championship and they are, indeed, a side to be reckoned with.

I've watched them on a number of occasions this season and each time I've left thinking the fans have had their money's worth and more. I'm sure most would have paid double to witness what was on show on Saturday.

I have to temper my gushing praise by saying they are by no means the finished article and, of course, all praise is relative to the pond you find yourself fishing in, but few Scottish clubs have had me turning to colleagues during matches with eyebrows raised, for very different reasons, the way Hibs have this year.

And so it was again on Saturday when they peppered a hard-working performance with flashes of brilliant football all across the pitch. Yes, they were in Celtic's faces and pressed them the way Rangers failed to at Hampden the week before, but they also carved the champions open at times with some devastating one-touch football from front to back.

Now they find themselves well and truly in the mix for best of the rest. Only three points now separate them from Aberdeen and Rangers in what has become an enthralling battle for second.

Hibernian's Vykintas Slivka celebrates scoring against Celtic
Vykintas Slivka scored Hibs' second goal in their win over Celtic

Unbeaten in their past 10 matches, they are also the in-form team going into the last four rounds of matches and momentum can often be the key at this stage of the campaign.

Lennon has created a group with bags of belief and, given they have already beaten all four teams left on their fixture list, they should have absolutely no fears about having a go and seeing where they end up.

That's exactly the public mantra from Lennon. He paints a picture of a side who have gone under the radar in recent weeks and one that remains the underdog.

It's a tag that suits their fighting spirit well. But the reality is, if John McGinn and Dylan McGeouch continue to click and if Florian Kamberi and Jamie Maclaren can stay fit and on form, then there's no reason why this group of players can't help fulfil the first part of their manager's claim from last year.

In a season in which Scottish football will help dispel the myth about nobody ever remembering second place, Hibs under Lennon could be ready to make their move.

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