It’s top against bottom in Paisley tomorrow with SPL leaders St Mirren looking to consolidate a promising start to the season as they entertain a Hibs side which has garnered just a single point so far.
Were we three or four months further on such a description of the pending encounter in Paisley might have some bearing, but the fact Hibs travel the length of the M8 to face the Buddies in only the third game of the new campaign renders the respective standings of the two clubs somewhat irrelevant.
Even so, there’s no getting away from the fact that a derby-day draw against Hearts has already taken on a fair degree of significance as far as Pat Fenlon’s side are concerned, a crushing opening-day defeat away to Dundee United having raised the worrying spectre in some minds of yet another season battling away at the wrong end of the table for the Hibees.
Perhaps even more important than the point itself was Hibs’ performance on the day. a side battered into submission in the Scottish Cup final only three months earlier by their arch-rivals expected to mount no more than token resistance once again when confronted by a Hearts team buoyed not only by that day at Hampden but a comfortable win over St Johnstone in their first game.
Instead, the Jambos found themselves up against an opposition determined not to finish second best, willing to slug it out and simply refusing to roll over even after finding themselves behind, Alan Maybury’s blunder having gifted his old club a lead which was cancelled out on the stroke of half-time by Leigh Griffiths.
However, disappointment rather than relief was the over-riding emotion on the final whistle, Hibs feeling, with some justification, they’d done enough to win the game despite the protestations from those in maroon that the stalemate was more down to Hearts’ shortcomings than anything their city neighbours had done.
Nevertheless, it was a day which has, according to Easter Road defender Tim Clancy, provided Fenlon’s players with a foundation upon which to build their season, the former Kilmarnock and Motherwell star adamant the same attitude, desire and application tomorrow can result in another positive outcome, hopefully with all three points.
A competitive edge, he argued, should come as second nature to every player, particularly in a league in which the majority of clubs outwith Celtic – and up until recent months Rangers – are considered much of a muchness.
Recalling Motherwell’s third-place finish last season, Clancy said: “We had a lot of good wins, but not so many of them were by a big margin. If you don’t approach every game giving 100 per cent then you can’t expect to win. Celtic might get away with it because they have a big, strong squad but everyone else has to approach each match with the right mentality and work-rate.”
Clancy believes Danny Lennon’s Saints, having picked up four points from their games against Inverness Caley and Dundee, will go into tomorrow’s clash believing they are capable of maintaining their promising start to the season but, again, he insisted Hibs will travel full of the same intentions.
He said: “St Mirren are a good passing team, they’ll be thinking they are at home and can get the win but we feel the derby was a starting point for us. We’ve had a lot of new faces coming in and we are still gelling but other teams, including Saints, have strengthened over the summer.
“But what you have to do in this League is work hard and compete.
“No team is easy to play against so it is important each player wins his own individual battle, that you at least match your opponent and if we do that then we have players like Leigh who, if we provide him with the right service, will score plenty of goals.”
While Celtic are red-hot favourites to take the title, Clancy believes matters are less clear cut as far as the SPL’s other 11 clubs are concerned. He said: “I think it will be a tight League this year. No matter how well you play, if you don’t win it’s not good enough. The most important thing is taking the three points and if we can play with the same intensity and commitment we showed against Hearts then we’ll be in with a good chance most weeks.”
The obvious danger facing Fenlon is having enjoyed the highly-charged atmosphere of a derby, his players don’t reach the same heights tomorrow. But Clancy insisted he and his team-mates were relishing the challenge.
He said: “I really enjoyed the experience and I’m already looking forward to the next one.
“We knew it was going to be an important game, the first with Hearts since the Cup final and while we’d lost to a very good Dundee United side the previous Sunday, we were also well aware we had underperformed.
“But we also knew if we apply ourselves and approach matches the right way we can give anyone a good game. At the end of the day we were quite happy with the way the derby went – but we wanted to win and were disappointed not to do so.”