Hibernian have “possibly” hit a glass ceiling after the summer loss of three key midfielders, says boss Neil Lennon.
Influential John McGinn, Dylan McGeouch and Scott Allan departed after helping Hibs to fourth place on their return to the Scottish Premiership last term.
Stevie Mallan’s arrival helped offset the exits, but Hibs are winless in five games, and Lennon admits improving the squad in pre-season was “impossible”.
“How do you replace a John McGinn?” he added.
“We haven’t got the finances or nous to do that so you bring other players on like a Mallan, develop him, and in the meantime try and keep performances and results the right way.
“It’s frustrating because we’ve hit a plateau and that was always going to happen because the rise of the club over the past couple of years has been very much an upward spiral.
“However, we’ve still got quality players here, entertaining players, international players, young players.”
Seventh-placed Hibs shipped a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 with bottom side Dundee at Easter Road on Saturday.
Lennon is “frustrated, not angry” with the dip in form and says he will not “hammer” his players as long as they continue to “try and do the right things”.
“We had a really good crop of players last year but we knew they would move on. It’s not always going to be champagne football – I’d love it to be that way, but that’s not the reality,” he said.
“People need to show a little bit of patience at times because it’s not always rosy in the garden. I hate it, I like being up there in the limelight, in amongst it, and this is a test of my own character which I enjoy because you have to suffer a little bit of pain to improve.
“You can’t be too hard on the players because the effort’s there, which you’d expect, it’s just the quality. That comes with a slight dip in form or confidence. It’ll come back, and when we do, we hopefully go on a run again that we’re capable of. We’re not a million miles away.”