Ben Williams today insisted Terry Butcher’s players have to forget their own futures and concentrate on ensuring Hibs are playing Premiership football next season.
The Easter Road club have been on the slide for three months, winning just one out of their last 12 league matches, a run which threatens to embroil them in a desperate fight to avoid being dragged into the dreaded play-off place and the trauma of battling for their position in the elite with a team from the Championship.
Hibs have an advantage of six points over St Mirren who currently occupy that play-off spot, but goalkeeper Williams is adamant none of his team-mates should be fooling themselves into thinking they aren’t in danger, their predicament having been exacerbated by a derby defeat to a group of Hearts players who already know they’ll be playing Championship football in a few months.
But while it has been claimed in some circles that Hibs have lost their focus with a host of first-team players out of contract at the end of the season and Butcher promising radical surgery to overhaul the squad he inherited from his predecessor Pat Fenlon almost five months ago, Williams vehemently disagrees.
The goalkeeper, who is among that number whose deals expire shortly, said: “I saw that notion a week or two ago that maybe players are ‘downing tools’, but the stark reality is players at our level do not earn enough money to be able to down tools, rest on their laurels and retire from the game.
“You have to work hard now for any sort of contract at any club, whether you want to remain at Hibs or want to try to better yourself and play for a bigger club elsewhere that’s going to pay more, you have to deserve it. You have to earn that right and the only way to do that is on the pitch, in every game.
“I’m in the same boat as everyone else, but I do not think now is the time to discuss any sort of contract. I think the manager would reiterate that and probably the chairman as well. It’s about making sure we stay in this division and then readdress things in the summer.”
As they slid to defeat at Tynecastle, Butcher, his players and their fans were taunted by chants of “You’re going down with the Jambos” from a home support resigned to their own fate but mightily relieved it wasn’t their arch-rivals hammering the final nails into their coffin. It may not quite be at that point yet but, Williams admitted, he and his team-mates should be well aware of the danger they are in.
He said: “We have been in this battle for a couple of weeks now, there’s no bones about it. We had a chance to get in the top six, a slim chance as we were relying on other results, but we made it clear to each other that whether it was top six or not we were not becoming involved in the play-off.
“However, we are firmly in that, we have to believe it. There’s no team too good or too big to be sucked in to the play-off.
“We have six games left and we need to take a many points as possible. We have a small cushion over St Mirren, but that means nothing especially when we have to go there and play them.”
While 3500 Hibs fans travelled to Gorgie hoping to see their team gain some measure of revenge, no matter how small, for their Scottish Cup Final mauling two years ago by effectively relegating their rivals, Williams conceded Butcher’s players had made it all too easy for Hearts by conceding the opening goal in just six minutes.
He said: “We had a fantastic opportunity to even things up a bit, but we just did not give ourselves a fighting chance from the off. We cannot keep gifting goals to the opposition in the first half. We did it at St Johnstone the previous week and again on Sunday. It gave us an uphill battle and gave them something to hold onto.
“Losing a goal so early was something we did not want to do. We knew their fans would be nervous and we made it abundantly clear before the game that the first goal was going to be very important.
“We thought if we could get it we’d have them in trouble, but by them getting it meant they were able to settle down. They were obviously pumped up, but we should have been just as pumped up and determined to go to places like that in a derby and win, to turn them over, to give our fans something to cheer about.
“Instead they had to trudge home, go into work and face Hearts fans for whom it wouldn’t matter whether they are relegated, they’ve just won the derby and, to be fair to them, that’s all that matters and that’s all that should have mattered to us.”
Williams agreed that the blunder by assistant referee Alasdair Ross in ruling offisde what would have been an equaliser – and possibly a game changer – from Jordon Forster was a major decision which had gone against Hibs.
He said: “We were in the ascendancy and had the goal stood we’d have gone on to win, no doubt about it. But these things happen, you have to overcome them and we need to be a hell of a lot more effective and show a lot more guts and determination to grind out results.
“It’s frustrating against your local rivals, you shouldn’t need any pep talk or anything, you should be ready to go. The memory of the scenes at Easter Road when we beat them in early January should have been enough to gee everyone up, but we didn’t do enough to warrant it.
“We seemed to get in and around their box, but we didn’t deliver in the final third, didn’t put the ball in the net and that’s what football is all about.”
Having only had one save of note to make in the entire 90 minutes, a spectacular one-handed leap to push aside a shot from Sam Nicholson, Williams, admitted to being frustrated at the goals Hibs are currently conceding, adamant opposition teams are scoring all too easily.
He said: “You like being as quiet as possible in games because that means you are not having to defend, you aren’t under pressure.
“It’s very frustrating when we gift soft goals.
“It’s like a broken record, we keep saying that but you see the boys in training and it doesn’t happen. It’s having the mentality that it doesn’t happen on a match day and that’s what we need to establish in these last six games.
“It’s a cliche over-used in every league of football, but every game now is a cup final. It’s about winning those games and it’s about restoring some sort of pride to this season.”