Duncan Watmore faces an unexpected extra fortnight in Edinburgh, but today the on-loan Sunderland kid insisted he’s happy to hang around to play his part in steering Hibs to Scottish Premiership safety.
A desperate play-off battle to beat the drop to the Championship wasn’t what the 20-year-old envisaged when he made his temporary move from the Stadium of Light in January, but in accepting his share of the blame for the Capital club’s demise, he is determined he won’t be departing with the stain of relegation blotting his CV.
To that end, the flying winger admitted he’s delighted the deal he struck with Easter Road boss Terry Butcher runs to the end of the month, giving him and his team-mates one last chance to salvage at least a modicum of pride from what has been a miserable season.
Watmore has yet to taste victory in a green-and-white shirt – he missed Hibs’ only victory since early January with a foot injury – a fact which leaves him all the more anxious that he does so in the two must-win matches the Capital outfit now face.
Whether it’s to be Hamilton or Falkirk in next week’s double-header is of little interest to the flame-haired youngster, the bottom line being that over the 180 minutes he and his team-mates conjure up more goals than the opposition over two legs to ensure Premiership survival.
Watmore instantly agrees that scoring goals has been Hibs’ Achilles’ heel all season, their last ten matches offering just three goals as they spiralled relentlessly downwards, a team which once harboured hopes of vying for a European place or a top-six finish at last finally consigned to the play-offs by one swipe of Kilmarnock striker Kris Boyd’s boot.
The irony of the fact it was his 22nd of the season against a side which had managed just 31 in their 38 games wasn’t lost on anyone in the 15,057 crowd which witnessed Hibs’ final demise, James Collins and Liam Craig the Easter Road club’s joint top scorers with a paltry half-a-dozen each.
Watmore said: “We’ve started games well, we’ve created chances in most of them as we did again in the Kilmarnock game, but we just haven’t been able to capitalise when we’ve been on top. As an attacker, I have to take my share of responsibility for that. I have to get good crosses in, get myself into positions where I can offer an assist.
“It’s been so frustrating – we’ve limited the opportunities other teams have had, but they’ve always seemed able to take one of them. So many of the results have gone against us by a single goal. Against Kilmarnock, their goalkeeper had a great save off Scott Robertson who then had a header taken off the line before they scored.
“And in the last 15 minutes Liam Craig hit the underside of the bar and you are just hoping it will go in or drop to one of us as always seems to have been happening when it’s at the other end of the pitch. There’s no explanation for it – we just have to keep going and believe that eventually it will come.”
Sooner rather than later would help soothe the shredded nerves of Hibs supporters who face an anxious wait until the first of the play-off games takes place next Wednesday. Watmore, however, claimed the belief remains that, contrary to the evidence, there are goals within Butcher’s squad.
He said: “It’s hard to keep your composure when you are under pressure, but that’s part of the game. I’m sure it will sort itself.”
Watmore was also adamant that Hibs will be far from idle over the next week or so, insisting that the intervening period will be put to good use at East Mains where, presumably, their training centre’s artificial surface will be well utilised given both Hamilton and Falkirk boast “plastic” surfaces.
He said: “We were all devastated not to win at the weekend, but we can’t sit around feeling sorry for ourselves. We have to pick ourselves up, work hard over the next few days, get ourselves organised and give ourselves every chance of winning these next two games.
“Obviously both Hamilton and Falkirk will be used to playing on an artificial pitch, but it doesn’t matter. We have one of our own at East Mains, so there will be no excuses.”
Likewise, Watmore envisages days of negative press directed at Hibs with whichever Championship side Hibs do end up facing being “talked up,” but, again, he claimed that’s just another hurdle to overcome, saying: “I’m sure there won’t be too much pleasant reading for us, but we remain confident. We just have to forget all that sort of stuff and focus on getting ourselves right.”
Watmore agreed the past few months haven’t been quite what he envisaged on arrival in Edinburgh, but he’s equally adamant he’s enjoyed his time with Hibs. He said: “There’s been a few trials and tribulations certainly, but I’ve been grateful for the opportunity Hibs have given me.
“It’s a great club and as a young player it’s all about learning, taking every experience – whether good or bad – on board and hopefully emerging as a better player for it.
“I’ve got another year on my contract at Sunderland, so I’ll be going back down there and hoping to impress but that can wait. All I’m interested in at the moment is helping Hibs win these next two games. Do that and I can look back on my time at Easter Road with a little more pleasure.”