Eoin DOYLE has admitted Hibs would be breathing a lot easier today had he grabbed a hat-trick of chances to sink St Mirren.
The flame-haired striker was handed his first start in more than two months in Paisley as top scorer Garry O’Connor fell victim to illness, but he left bitterly disappointed not to have found the net at least once.
Pat Fenlon’s side were made to pay as Kenny McLean notched the only goal of the game for Saints, consigning Hibs to a second successive defeat as the gap between the Easter Road outfit and relegation rivals Dunfermline narrowed to just three points.
But as tight as it has become in the battle to beat the drop, Doyle remains adamant that he and his team-mates can steer themselves to safety in their three remaining games – trips to Aberdeen tomorrow night and Inverness on the final day of the season sandwiching what many are now regarding as a “winner takes all” showdown with the Pars at Easter Road on Monday night.
A stunning comeback to snatch a point against St Mirren was followed by Dunfermline’s first home win as they crushed Aberdeen at East End Park, the four points gained as Hibs failed to pick up even one from their encounters with Kilmarnock and the Buddies has given the Pars, written off by most only a few weeks ago, renewed hope.
And, according to Saints boss Danny Lennon, who is possibly best judge of the situation having faced Dunfermline and his old club in successive weeks, it is Jim Jefferies’ side which is now in the ascendancy although he believes it remains too close to call.
However, while conceding it has been a disappointing couple of weeks for the Capital outfit, Irishman Doyle insisted he and his team-mates can take the wind out of the Pars’ sails by clocking up a much needed win in Aberdeen tomorrow night as Dunfermline travel a little further north to face Inverness Caley.
The 24-year-old hitman said: “The dressing-room remains positive and confident we can do it. It’s still all very tight. We had a chance to bring Inverness into it and to maintain the gap between ourselves and Dunfermline but we slipped up.
“It was very disappointing, we felt we deserved more out of the game in that it was very similar to Kilmarnock the previous week. They had one chance, a penalty, and scored and now St Mirren have done the same and we’ve come away from those games with no points.”
Doyle is very aware of the various scenarios which could arise come the final whistle tomorrow night, insistent a win for Hibs could have a deflating effect on Dunfermline as, regardless of the outcome of their match in Inverness, it would leave Fenlon’s side three points ahead with only two games to play. He said: “If we take the three points it will be a different story. If we do that and they lose then the gap is back to six but all we can realistically do is take it one game at a time although we are confident of getting ourselves out of it.”
Doyle acknowledged it would have been an entirely different story had he managed to take any of the chances which came his way at St Mirren Park, all three of them coming before McLean’s telling strike.
He said: “I felt I could have had a hat-trick before I came off. We had enough chances to get the three points and then they have hit us on the break with possibly their only shot of the game. We honestly feel we aren’t getting the rub of the green but you tend to find that happens to you when you are in the situation we are in.”
Doyle’s first opportunity came five minutes from half-time when a raking through ball from skipper James McPake left Saints goalkeeper Craig Samson in no-man’s land as he raced from his goal-line only for the former Sligo Rovers star to fire wide. He admitted: “The goalie left a hole for me to put it in, I should have taken a bit more care.”
A great block from Buddies defender Marc McAusland after Leigh Griffiths had superbly spun his fellow centre-half Lee Mair before delivering an inviting low ball into the danger area stymied Doyle again as did Samson in pulling off a great save from the striker after he’d siezed on Mair’s poor touch.
He sighed: “I scuffed my shot from Leigh’s cross, I didn’t get a good clean contact and then I think the goalkeeper has just taken a guess and gone the right way. It was really disappointing because they took the lead only a few minutes later.”
Doyle admitted he was unhappy not to have made the most of his first start since facing Celtic in mid-February, limited to a few minutes here and there as a substitute in the intervening period, but insisted he wouldn’t go beating himself up over those missed opportunities. Still awaiting his first SPL goal although he scored against Cowdenbeath and Kilmarnock to play his part in steering Hibs to next month’s historic Scottish Cup final against Capital rivals Hearts, Doyle said: “I was disappointed with the way things turned out. I had my chance to play and did not really take it. But I think I am more than capable of performing at this level, I cannot say it’s been too much of a step up. I maybe beat myself up for an hour or two but by yesterday morning I was raring to go and I’ll be ready tomorrow if given the nod.”
Hibs’ increasingly desperate battle against relegation from the top-flight stands in stark contrast to the mouthwatering prospect of Hampden but Doyle, a winner of the Irish Cup in each of the last two seasons with Sligo said: “We are not looking any further ahead than Wednesday and getting the three points.”