Much has been made over this past week of Hibs clocking up a fourth successive draw at Easter Road, but skipper Liam Craig reckons little attention has been paid to the fact Alan Stubbs’ side have won their last four matches on the road.
And that, he insisted, should fill him and his team-mates with confidence as they head for Dumbarton tomorrow, the first of three away games in a row as they seek to extend a run of eight matches unbeaten.
Admitting being unable to turn those draws into wins has proved frustrating, denying his side the opportunity to have closed the gap on both Championship leaders Hearts and second-placed Rangers, the midfielder said: “We’ve dominated possession, dominated in large spells in games and not had that cutting edge at home for whatever reason.
“Against Queen of the South, while they never looked like scoring, we only had one real clear-cut chance for Paul Heffernan near the end of the game. Apart from that, though, we never opened them up as much as we would have liked. It’s about turning possession into chances and if we do that we will win games.
“We’ve shown we can score goals, Dundee United at Easter Road, away to Rangers, Ross County and Livingston, but we want to do that week in, week out. We’re eight games unbeaten, we want to keep that going, but we want to start winning games, especially at home.
“Those eight points that have gone would have made a massive difference to the way the table looks. We’ve worked hard on making ourselves difficult to beat, difficult to break down, but the onus has to be on winning. Look at Hearts and Rangers, they’ve both scored more than 30 goals, while we’ve not got 20 yet.
“It’s something we need to improve on, although away from home it’s been good and we can take a lot of confidence from the wins we’ve enjoyed.”
Having said that, Craig revealed he anticipates a tough match against Dumbarton – coincidentally the first side he faced in a Hibs shirt in a pre-season friendly – agreeing Ian Murray’s players will still feel aggrieved at having been knocked out of the League Cup in Edinburgh as the Capital side came back from two goals down to snatch a last-minute winner through Sam Stanton.
The Sons also escaped with a point from Easter Road, somewhat fortuitously after Dominique Malonga’s penalty was deemed not to have crossed the line by the officials, although photographic evidence suggested otherwise. But Craig believes tomorrow’s match is one Hibs are more than capable of winning.
He said: “I’d imagine Dumbarton still feel they deserved to win the cup game, while they did well to come from behind to win at Livingston last week. They are part-time, but will feel confident at home. However, I think our performances are not far away. Our away form is good and if we do the right things then we can win.”
However, Hibs will have to do so without a string of first-choice players: Farid El Alagui, Jordon Forster and Dylan McGeouch all recovering from surgery; Scott Robertson has a broken hand and a question mark still hangs over the fitness of keeper Mark Oxley. There is also the fitness of Dominique Malonga to be assessed following his stint on international duty with Congo as they qualified for the finals of the Africa Cup of Nations.
As such Stubbs has had to turn to the younger members of his squad, two 19-year-olds in Kleton Perntreou and Jason Cummings at either end of the pitch against the Doonhamers, with Lewis Allan and Callum Crane, two years younger than that pair, on the bench. The average age of the starting line-up last weekend was only 23 years and 169 days, with just 552 starts between the players.
Craig said: “I was sitting next to Liam Fontaine in the dressing-room looking at all the young players so I gave him a nudge and asked ‘What age are you Fonz?’ I was relieved when he said 28 – it meant I wasn’t the oldest starting the game.
“But fair play to Kleton, having come on in horrible conditions at Cowdenbeath, it was brilliant for him to keep a clean sheet at such a young age on his debut at home. Missing six players as we did will hurt any team, but that’s what a squad is for and when players come in we have to perform as well as we can.
“We’ve got a lot of good young players here, those already mentioned, Jason Cummings, Matty Kennedy, Danny Handling, Alex Harris, Sam Stanton, Jake Sinclair and so on.”
With Hearts and Rangers clashing at Tynecastle tomorrow, victory at Dumbarton would see Hibs trim the advantage of either one or both of them depending on the result of that match. But while insisting his only interest is in ensuring his side emerge with the three points, Craig admitted he would love to see Stubbs’ players embark on a winning run as the tough Christmas schedule looms into view.
The 27-year-old said: “We can only look after ourselves, we can’t affect what happens at Tynecastle or elsewhere. We can only go to Dumbarton, be professional and hope that will bring us three points and keep our fans, who have been excellent in supporting us home and away, happy. It couldn’t have been much fun standing in the pouring rain at Cowdenbeath.
“Then we regroup and look ahead to the Scottish Cup tie away to Alloa. We want to get on a run of games winning, it gives everyone confidence. We want to be going into the Christmas period on the back of a few wins because everyone knows how important that time is. We have Rangers and Hearts back-to-back in that spell so we know how important it will be to string some wins together.”
After a few matches on the bench, Craig has returned to frontline action in recent weeks, the captain having no complaints at not making the starting line-up on those occasions as he again underlined the need for a squad of players.
He said: “Obviously you want to play every week, but we have a great group of players, a great staff and a really good young manager doing the right things. When you are called up you have to be ready and I’d like to think I’ve done that. When you aren’t playing you are still very much part of things, it’s a close group of players.
“Any club I’ve been involved in that’s enjoyed a bit of success, it’s taken a squad of players. If we go up through the play-offs, win the league, go on a good run in the cup it’s gong to take everyone to pull in the same direction to do it.”