Bonding session will help Hibs brush off play-off fears

Paul Cairney, left, Danny Handling and Scott Robertson

Paul Cairney, left, Danny Handling and Scott Robertson

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Danny Handling is hoping some team-bonding can inspire Hibs to a much-needed three points on Monday night when League Cup winners Aberdeen visit Easter Road.

Last Sunday’s 2-0 derby defeat at Tynecastle saw Hibs spurn the opportunity to confirm their neighbours’ relegation to the Championship.

The last six days have been one of rebuilding morale and also focussing on the club’s own position – Hibs sit just six points clear of second-bottom and current occupants of the play-off spot, St Mirren, ahead of the Buddies’ home game with Motherwell today.

Handling, who was deployed just off strike partner James Collins and played 85 minutes before being substituted in last weekend’s derby defeat, said: “We’ve had a couple of days off to recover and the team had a really good bonding day on Wednesday.

“The manager is trying to keep the team together and keep that mentality and closeness of the players – and it is working. In my opinion, the team is a very tight unit anyway and we’re all striving for the same thing.

“We have to put that (the defeat to Hearts) to bed. We can’t keep going on about the derby and what was a massive opportunity to put them down, but we can’t think about that now.”

Handling accepts there is a big task ahead for Hibs as they try to alleviate growing fears the club could become embroiled in a battle to stay in the Premiership.

However, with a total of 18 points up for grabs, the 20-year-old is confident this is a worry they won’t have to face for much longer should they overcome Aberdeen. “It will be a fight,” he agreed, “but we’re all up for it. I think we’re all in the same position where we’re up for this bottom-six scrap and it starts on Monday with the game at home to Aberdeen.

“The boys have never thought this team has been too good to be in a relegation battle but we know now this is definitely something we could face.

“We definitely don’t want that to happen so we need to take each game as it comes and take as many points as we can which we’re confident of doing.

“They (Aberdeen) are a good team but it’s another game to look forward to and another game that we can hopefully get some points from.”

As a striker, Handling is only too aware of the expectation on his shoulders when he takes to the turf.

Converting chances has proved problematic for Hibs in recent weeks, the Easter Road men having failed to score in three of their last four fixtures with Handling, Collins, Danny Haynes and Paul Heffernan all struggling to find any sort of form in front of goal.

Asked if he feels any additional pressure to find the net given the club’s current predicament, Handling said: “At times, yeah, because obviously it’s a striker’s job to put the ball in the net but also it’s a collective thing as well because the team together have to put the ball in the net. We’ve seen us score a lot of goals from set-pieces because we’re that dominant in the air with a lot of strong boys in the team so that takes the pressure off and it balances itself out.

“It’s just the final part where we need to get the ball in the net.

“Everything else is there, we’re defending well at times and usually it’s mistakes that leads to the goals we lose.

“But I’m sure it will come. We are lacking a wee bit confidence but that will come as well.”