Hibs’ promising start to the season has tended to mask the fact, as boss Pat Fenlon has insisted, that his rebuilding of the Easter Road club remains very much a “work in progress”.
The Edinburgh outfit have surprised many this season, briefly hitting the top of the SPL table, given the traumas of the past couple of years but, as veteran defender Alan Maybury today admitted, much remains to be done before he and his team-mates can consider themselves to be the finished article.
A glance at the ‘goals against’ column is all the proof Maybury needs to underpin his stance. Hibs have conceded 15 in their opening ten matches and, while only four of those have been lost at Easter Road as Fenlon’s side seek to make their home venue one to be approached with trepidation by opposition teams, 11 have been shipped in five away games.
No side has lost more goals on the road than the Capital club, that fact meaning the seven scored – a total bettered only by Celtic and Inverness Caley Thistle – have brought just four of the 15 points accrued so far, a record which Maybury insisted must be improved upon.
He said: “We are giving away too many goals, having to score two and three to win games is a bit much and we have to sort it. We are creating chances, we scored two against Ross County and yet came away with nothing.
“But we’ve never claimed to be the finished article. We are working away at it, working hard in training to sort out the basics.
“If someone puts it into the top corner from 30 yards or they have played around you with fast movement, then every team will accept that. But we’ve given away too many soft goals, ones that teams haven’t had to work hard enough to get. I think a goal a game is the sort of average most teams, apart from Celtic, would be happy with. It’s just too high for us at the moment but a few clean sheets quickly brings that into line.”
There’s little doubt that, had Fenlon’s players been able to bring the goals conceded away from home more into line with the total lost at Easter Road, they’d have a healthier points total than that they enjoy today, but Maybury was in total agreement with skipper James McPake’s assessment that in Dingwall they’d been the authors of their own demise.
All three goals, scored by Stuart Kettlewell, Iain Vigurs and Colin McMenamin, fell into the “sloppy” category, each avoidable but as it turned out enough to make those netted by Leigh Griffiths and McPake worthless.
Griffiths provided Hibs with the dream start, claiming his seventh goal of the season with less than six minutes on the clock, collecting David Wotherspoon’s ball over the top and sliding it under County goalkeeper Michael Fraser.
Hibs, though, committed the cardinal sin of conceding the equaliser within minutes, Kettlewell first to react as the Easter Road defence failed to deal with Richard Brittain’s corner. Maybury said: “You know when you score you have to see out the next five or ten minutes but we didn’t and then we found ourselves 2-1 down.
“It was a nothing ball over the top and even the boy’s finish, he’s probably mis-hit it although he’ll tell you otherwise.”
McPake’s stunning volley from Griffiths’ cross brought Hibs level at half-time, a scoreline which most in green and white admitted flattered them, but after the interval, Hibs believed they’d held the upper hand until McMenamin stole in to meet fellow substitute Gary Glen’s flick from Scott Boyd’s free-kick from inside his own half to seal the points for the Highland side.
Maybury said: “I don’t think he [Boyd] meant to put the ball where he did. He slipped as he hit it. It was a flatter ball than he intended, which made it harder to defend. Paul [Hanlon] doesn’t want to go over the top to try to win it, he tries to hold his ground and it’s nicked inside.
“It did take us 45 minutest to get going. In the first half we didn’t cope well with the long ball, we did not win enough, compete enough or get close enough to them but we were much better in the second half and I felt we controlled the game.
“We won more headers, we got closer to them, didn’t give them the space, didn’t let them run off us, all the things we’d talked about before the game, and, as a result, we gave ourselves a platform to build on.
“We felt comfortable at the back, we didn’t feel under any real pressure, which was completely different to the first half, and I don’t think Ben Williams had much to do.
“Probably with the way the game had gone we’d have felt a point wouldn’t be a bad result, It was the sort of game where you make sure you don’t lose. But the way the second half went, I think we believed that if anyone was going to win, it would be us. Then to lose it in the way we did was a kick in the teeth.”
While both teams had a fortnight out of action thanks to the international break, they’d gone into it in entirely different circumstances. Hibs were on the back of a comprehensive 3-0 win against Dundee, while County had lost their three previous matches after surrendering their incredible 40-match unbeaten run.
Although an argument could be made that the break came at the right time for Derek Adams’ players, Maybury was adamant he and his team-mates couldn’t use that as an excuse, although they did travel the length of the A9 minus the services of defender Tim Clancy and midfield terrier Gary Deegan through injury.
Maybury said: “You do want to build momentum and maybe we lost a little bit.
“We had Ryan McGivern and Jorge Claros away on international duty and travelled without a couple more which meant changes but it [the break] is certainly not an excuse. We had two weeks of good training, we were confident going into the game, we scored two goals and it was not enough.
“But there’s no time for moping around, we have to pick ourselves up and prepare properly for Motherwell on Friday night.”