Ian MURRAY brushed off the disappointment of a derby defeat to claim a significant improvement in Hibs’ on-field displays since the arrival of Pat Fenlon as manager.
Murray’s first start in more than two months coincided with a 3-1 defeat to Hearts at Easter Road, but the Hibs skipper cited positive progress by key players as reason for optimism.
“We’ve worked really hard,” said Murray after Hibs conceded two late goals to lose to their cross-city rivals. “We’ve come away beaten 3-1 by our rivals, which is disappointing. But I think things have got steadily a bit better game-by-game. There were a few players not playing very well a month ago or six weeks ago who are now coming back into the team and playing a wee bit better, so it bodes well for the future.
“I think there’s work to be done, of course, but I think the players are showing they have the ability to take in what he [Pat Fenlon] says and work really hard. We gave everything we have for the gaffer and worked our socks off. It’s little things that let us down – we’ve let in two goals from a set-play and the third goal you can’t scrub off, but we were chasing the game and had gone three at the back . . . these things happen.”
“We’ve got to take [defeat to Hearts] on the chin now and get on with it. We got beat at home again in the derby, but our aim in the overall picture is to get out of the rut we’re in. We’ve got a few games coming up now, with Dunfermline away, which is a huge game for both teams, and Aberdeen at home, and the Scottish Cup next week, which is going to be a tough one for us. Our objective now is to get out of where we are – whoever we get the points against, it doesn’t really matter.”
Despite better form among some of his teammates, Murray believes that boss Fenlon will be busy in the January transfer window. He admits he is bracing himself as competition for places in the Hibs team is likely to intensify over the coming weeks if Fenlon, who has already recruited Eoin Doyle, brings in more new blood.
“He’s got into us what he wants us to do – work really hard, and stick with a game plan and there’s a certain way we have to play. It’s tough, and big Garry’s struggling with injury and he’s a big miss in a derby. But we’ve got a good squad and nearly everyone fit. There will be players in and out, but behind the scenes we’re working very hard. We’re not picking up as many points as we want to, but we’re certainly looking a lot sharper and a lot better at the moment.
“There’s no doubt there will be changes. Every manager changes things so there will be guys leaving and guys coming in. It’s up to the boys here to prove to the manager they’re worth staying. Equally, if he does bring players in they have got to try and get in the team, so we’ll try to make it as hard as possible for them.”
By beginning 2012 with defeat to their rivals, Murray admits Hibs must now change their focus. From early-season talk of targeting a top-six finish, they should now switch their sights to merely surviving in the SPL, he says.
As things stand, the Easter Road side will achieve that thanks to the dismal form of relegation rivals Dunfermline. The Pars’ 3-0 defeat to Celtic came as a welcome relief, with Hibs staying a point above their Fife rivals. Murray hopes the Hibs fans will rally to support their team in numbers in a bid to avoid relegation come May.
“We’re past halfway now and in the second half of the season. We’re sitting second-bottom at the moment and it’s going to be very difficult now. Our ambitions at the start of the season aren’t going to be our ambitions now. Teams are starting to get away from us, so we need to try to get away from the bottom and isolate Dunfermline.
“The game in Dunfermline in two weeks’ time has turned into a very big game – not cup final-like, but I’m sure there will be a very big support going through. It’s at these times when the fans seem to come out and help us, and we need them.
“We’ve got a chance to go on a wee run, and we need everyone to help.”