Disappointing as crashing out of the Irn-Bru Cup may have been, Hibs skipper David Gray has insisted the manner of the defeat by St Mirren was of even greater concern.
For the fourth successive match, the Easter Road outfit failed to secure a victory, a stark contrast to their start to the season when five straight Chamionship wins threatened to leave the rest of the pack in their wake.
Gray, however, argued that while the results against Ayr United, Queen of the South and Dundee United were obviously not what had been hoped for, the performances put in by Neil Lennon’s players had, in fact, been of a decent standard.
But, he admitted, the display produced against Saints, rooted to the foot of the table and without a win in their eight previous games, fell far below that which was expected from the Capital side.
It was time, the club captain insisted, for each of Lennon’s players to look themselves in the mirror and ask ‘were we good enough, did we do enough’.
The answer, he believes, is a definite no. He said: “We’ve not been playing badly up until the final pass or shot when we’ve not been clinical enough in the opposition box.
“Performances have been okay without getting the result, the application and effort the boys have been putting in has been great. But against St Mirren we were not at the level, that’s the most disappointing thing and something we have to put right.”
For the third time in four games Hibs took the lead – Alex Harris firing them ahead with his first Easter Road goal – but were unable to maintain that advantage, Steven Mallan equalising within minutes for the Saints, who went on to clinch a place in the competition’s last eight with a late goal from David Clarkson.
An angry Lennon described that goal as “a nonsense”, branding the moment as “amateur stuff” as his players invited trouble as they attempted to play the ball out from the back.
Gray held his hand up to his part, saying: “I should do better. I gave the ball away in an ares where we should not have been playing at that time.
“We maybe should have been going longer so I take responsibility for giving the ball away, they’ve broken on us and scored.”
However, in admitting his own culpability, Gray insisted that collectively Lennon’s players must do better, adamant that they suddenly haven’t become a poor side.
He said: “The way games have gone it’s very frustrating, full stop. We lost another set piece, a free kick right after we have scored. We should do better than that.
“We got the lead without playing great, got ourselves in front and should have got through to half-time with that lead, so it was obviously disappointing to let them back into the game as easily as that.”
Hibs have now lost three games at home already this season, as many defeats as they suffered at Easter Road last season and, Gray insisted, there are no excuses.
He said: “We can’t make excuses that teams are coming here and doing this and that to us. We have to be better all over the pitch, more ruthless at both ends. We are losing goals which is something we weren’t doing earlier in the season.
“If we knew exactly what was wrong we’d move to rectify it. It’s difficult at the minute, but we are all in it together, we get back into training this week, work hard as we did last week, and make sure we put it right at the weekend.
“We have shown this season that we are a good side by putting those five straight wins together. We’ve come away from that and we need to put it right because individually we are good enough and collectively we should be better. We are not playing at the level we are capable of.”
While some may shrug and dismiss the weekend defeat as being “only the Irn-Bru Cup”, the competition’s failure to grip the fans’ imagination all too evident with a crowd of only 4393 at Easter Road where gates previously had been averaging almost 15,400, Gray begged to differ.
He said: “We want to win every game. It was the chance to get to the quarter-final of a cup and we are disappointed we haven’t managed to do that.
“It’s not about the size of the crowd, we are professional players and it shouldn’t matter if it’s a closed doors game at the training ground or before a full-house. It should be the same in every game, wanting to win.
“You don’t shrug it off, it hurts the players and everyone involved at the club.
“It was an opportunity not only to progress in the cup but to rediscover that momentum we had a few weeks ago. I know it wasn’t the league, but it would have been good to win, to be able to take that momentum into Saturday’s game against Raith Rovers and look to start to put together another run of wins But it’d going to be hard, it’s a tough place to go and Raith have started well.”