As sore as it might have been, Ben Williams today insisted he and his team-mates can’t allow the bitter disappointment of surrendering a two-goal lead against Dundee United overshadow the dramatic upturn enjoyed by Hibs in recent weeks.
Terry Butcher’s side looked certain to clinch a fourth straight win when skipper Liam Craig claimed a double at Tannadice only for United to storm back with strikes from super subs David Goodwillie and Brian Graham in the final eight minutes of the match.
As crestfallen as the Hibs players looked when they returned to the pitch a few minutes after the final whistle to carry out their warm-down routine – an immediate post-mortem clearly taking place – Williams believes the result on Tayside shouldn’t be taken out of perspective.
Only the Scottish Premiership’s top three, Celtic, Aberdeen and Motherwell, enjoyed better success than the Capital club over the festive period, the 11 points out of 15 gathered by Butcher’s players propelling them above St Johnstone and into the upper half of the table.
In doing so they rid themselves of the unwanted tag of being the top flight’s lowest scorers, extended an impressive run of results which now stands at just one defeat – away to champions Celtic and by a single goal at that – in nine matches since Butcher and Maurice Malpas took charge and, of course, welcoming in the New Year with a victory over arch-rivals Hearts.
And if Jackie McNamara’s team, having strung together six successive wins with 22 goals, had gone off the boil somewhat as the festivities began, the trip to Tannadice still represented a fair challenge for a side slowly but surely rebuilding their confidence. For goalkeeper Williams one statistic underlined the progress made, Hibs having stood 14 points behind United on Christmas Day only to travel hoping to cut that gap to a mere two points. That they failed to do so in the manner in which they did to leave United with a five-point advantage will, however, fail to dent morale within the Easter Road camp according to their No.1.
He said: “It’s an old football cliché, but we are taking each game as it comes, trying to build on what we have established in the game before and improving on it in all areas. I think we are doing that.
“We’re still five points behind United but clear of St Johnstone and have put ourselves in a good position in the top six. I think if you had offered us the run of results we have had then I’m sure a lot of people would have taken it and the fact we are actually disappointed with a draw is, I think, testament to us.
“We outplayed United, a team about which a lot of people have had a lot of good things to say this season, for long periods of the game and I think that shows how far we have come.
“Obviously we were very disappointed to be pegged back from two up, that we couldn’t hold out for another five minutes but it’s another game unbeaten, another point.”
Like Butcher, Williams felt the fact Hibs had the drama of an Edinburgh derby 24 hours after United had faced Aberdeen worked in the home side’s favour, McNamara’s side, with nothing to lose, adopting a “route one” approach which finally brought its rewards. He said: “They kept knocking on the door and we just couldn’t see it out. It’s difficult to maintain the way you are playing when the opposition totally change their game. They had nothing to lose being two down, they committed men forward, got strikers into the box and kept putting the ball in there, lumping it forward and asking questions.
“We looked as if we had the game won and there is a pride in the team going into every game looking to win, to sustain our unbeaten run and to keep climbing the table. Put some results together in this league and that’s what happens as we have shown and we are looking to catch the teams above us.
“I think we can still take a lot of positives from the game despite the disappointment of not winning. We have to keep things in perspective, now we have to manage expectations. We are going into games wanting to win, the fans want us to win and there’s an expectation that we can so it is up to us to uphold that.
“It was difficult against United, we’d had a derby and they’d had an extra 24 hours rest. The manager stressed to us right after the derby that is was just another match, that we had to get over it but it is hard when you have another game right round the corner.
“However, I think we started really well against United, something we have been doing in matches and that’s something we want to establish and build on.
“It’s another cliché, but it’s building blocks, taking a step at a time and before you know it you are making giant leaps and knocking on the door of the teams above.”
Hibs’ revival has brought the fans flocking back, more than 16,000 home supporters in a bumper 20,106 crowd which witnessed the triumph over Hearts and 1500 plus making the trip to Tannadice, an effort which Williams insisted he and his team-mates fully appreciate.
He said: “The fans have been, well, fantastic. They enjoyed the derby and it was great to see so many again on Sunday. The games have been coming thick and fast in a very short space of time over Christmas.
“It’s an expensive hobby football so each and every one of them deserves credit.
“Now we have a wee break between games, the chance to recuperate, focus and be ready to hit the ground running when we go to Aberdeen on Friday – we’ll be approaching that game in exactly the same way.”