Few players will view the prospect of a match in Inverness with much relish, the tedious hours spent on the team coach travelling up the A9 in the knowledge defeat will make the return journey feel never-ending.
But for Hibs star George Francomb, the 360-mile round trip to face Caley Thistle side on Sunday – the longest of the season for the Capital side – will be nothing more than a minor inconvenience.
“Try Norwich to Carlisle,” the youngster will tell any of his team-mates should they start moaning, recalling his League debut for the Canaries and reckoning players in Scotland get it easy when it comes to travelling.
On loan from Carrow Road, Francomb said: “That’s the one thing that’s struck me up here, all the games I’ve travelled to so far have been pretty close, it hasn’t taken much more than an hour to get to any of them.
“This one may be the longest we’ll make but players in England are well used to making journeys which take as long, especially if you play for Norwich. Then it is a case of either flying or long journeys.
“I remember that trip to Carlisle, it took eight hours by road as we hit a bit of traffic. We’d travelled the day before the game thankfully and were able to relax at our hotel overnight. We won the match 1-0 but I couldn’t tell you how long it took to get back to East Anglia. I was so tired I fell asleep but it was the early hours of the morning before we got there. So compared to that Inverness isn’t that far.”
Nevertheless, it will be the furthest north the 20-year-old from Hackney in London will ever have been in Britain, Francomb revealing he’d never even ventured as far as Edinburgh before completing his temporary switch in January.
There will, though, be one familiar face awaiting him in the Highlands, former Norwich team-mate and Welsh internationalist Owain Tudur Jones, the midfielder having returned to the Caley side in recent weeks following six months on the sidelines with a serious knee injury.
Francomb said: “We played together at Norwich for three seasons and I still speak to him every now and again. It will be good to play against him. Owain is a good player, tall, strong, good on the ball and I saw the other day Terry Butcher was describing him as their playmaker.”
While Pat Fenlon’s side lie in a precarious position at the foot of the SPL table, just three points ahead of bottom side Dunfermline, the journey to Inverness this time round may not hold the same degree of trepidation as previous trips, Garry O’Connor’s last-gasp winner at the Caledonian Stadium earlier in the season having smashed Hibs’ Highlands hoodoo.
Even so, as Francomb conceded, Sunday represents a massive game for Hibs against the side immediately above them in the table with manager Fenlon continuing to insist both Caley and St Mirren could yet be sucked into the relegation equation.
Although that may seem a little far-fetched with Inverness eight points in front despite losing in midweek to St Johnstone, that situation could radically change given Hibs and Caley will meet for a fourth time after the split.
Fenlon’s players will also go into Sunday’s match knowing the outcome of Dunfermline’s visit to Tannadice tomorrow, with few giving the Pars much hope against a Dundee United side who extended their SPL unbeaten run to eight matches with a 2-0 win over Hibs last weekend.
Francomb, though, insisted that, regardless of the outcome of the match on Tayside, he and his team-mates must focus on getting results for themselves rather than relying on others.
He said: “I suppose it would be good to see Dunfermline’s result but at the end of the day we have to win on Sunday. We shouldn’t need any greater incentive than the three points from our match. First and foremost, we want to pull ourselves away from Dunfermline.
“If we can beat Inverness and Dunfermline fail to pick up points then we’ll have stretched the gap at the bottom a bit and closed in a little on Caley with another game to come against them in a few weeks time.”
Fenlon and his players have had to deal with more than a few cutting observations of their plight, defeats against Hearts and United only accentuating the predicament they find themselves in.
Francomb, however, has few complaints at the flak which has been directed at the Easter Road squad. He said: “I think some people perhaps forgot that United are the form team in the SPL at the moment, they are on a great run and had just beaten Rangers.
“But that’s what happens when you are a football player. You have to take the criticism when you are losing. We’d put together three matches unbeaten before the Hearts game when everyone loved us then all of a sudden everyone is criticising us. You just have to take it on the chin and work harder for good results.”
In both matches against Hearts and United, Fenlon’s side looked good for a half – the second at Tynecastle and the first against Peter Houston’s team – but ended up decidedly second best, the inconsistency which has marrred their season highlighted within 90 minutes on each occasion. Francomb missed all but eight minutes of the derby, forced off with a gaping wound which required seven stitches following a clash of heads with Hearts Rudi Skacel but well placed to offer his take on the United defeat having played the entire game.
He said: “We had quite a lot of possession in the first half, we kept the ball and were able to play high up the pitch but we didn’t keep it in the second half and when that happens you find yourself penned in, as we were.
“The derby was probably the most gutting moment so far in my career. I was really up for the game, I couldn’t wait to get out there and then that happens. It was just one of those things, the medical guys tried to “glue” the wound at the side of the pitch but it was too wide and needed stitches. We couldn’t afford to play on with ten men for another ten or 15 minutes so I had to come off, it was bitterly disappointing.”