Lee Johnson admits Hibernian need to learn fast how to handle the demands of juggling European football with domestic matters after they suffered a 3-2 defeat at home to St Mirren in their cinch Premiership opener.
The Easter Road side defeated Andorran side Inter d’Escaldes 6-1 in their Europa Conference League qualifier on Thursday – 7-3 on aggregate – but they fell flat on Sunday as their visitors raced into a two-goal lead through Mark O’Hara and Toyosi Olusanya.
Hibs raised their intensity levels after the break and got themselves level through Adam Le Fondre and Christian Doidge. but Saints claimed the points with a late header from substitute Alex Greive.
With home and away games against Swiss side FC Luzern over the next two Thursdays, Johnson is worried about his team’s ability to handle the demands of competing on both fronts.
“I’m super disappointed with the start,” he said. “If we’re going to compete in all competitions we have got to be able to play Thursday-Sunday-Thursday-Sunday.
“I obviously named the same starting XI (as Thursday), which is fair (criticism) to be thrown at me.
“But I feel individually the boys have a responsibility to be at their best physically and mentally, with the help of us and all the expertise we have got.
“I don’t think it was a fitness thing because you saw us take over in the second half.
“It was more a mental strength to be able to go again, when the focus had been on a recent game, if that makes sense.
“With St Mirren having a longer lead-in than us in terms of preparation they did a job on us. We made poor decisions.
“The boys showed in the second half it wasn’t a fitness issue. It looked like that in the first half due to not being as mentally focused as he should have been.
“We’ve got to get to grips with that quickly if we want to compete on all fronts.”
Johnson made a double substitution after just 28 minutes, taking off Josh Campbell and Allan Delferriere and switching formation while his team trailed 2-0.
“I love Josh to bits, he’s a fantastic player and has goals in him, but he has to bring his game more often,” said Johnson, explaining the changes.
“His game is a powerful game, he hits numbers in terms of getting in the box and can win second balls. For whatever reason he wasn’t on it today.
“Allan looked like it was too much for him to play two games in four days.”
St Mirren boss Stephen Robinson praised his side’s resilience after they overcame the disappointment of squandering their two-goal lead to go and win the match.
“I was delighted with the performance,” he said. “To come here and dominate the whole first half with the quality we showed was great.
“I thought to a man we were excellent. We were always going to face a comeback, this is a very good Hibs side who have recruited heavily and it was always going to be a test.
“When they launch things up to Doidge anything can happen. It became a little bit route one.
“We could have lived to regret not taking the amount of chances we created, but we were not happy to settle for a point. I thought we were excellent and showed real quality.”