Jordon Forster is in a hurry, impatient to have Hibs’ top-flight status secured sooner rather than later.
That goal can be achieved tonight with a victory over fellow strugglers Ross County and the young defender is desperate to seize the chance rather than endure a nerve-shredding final-day showdown with Kilmarnock.
Although Hibs have been in freefall for weeks, dropping like a stone towards a dreaded 11th-place finish and with it a relegation play-off, Sam Stanton’s last-gasp equaliser against Partick Thistle on Saturday brought that slide to a halt. The single precious point secured by the midfielder’s header was enough to bring about a dramatic change in fortune for the under-pressure Capital club.
A seventh-successive defeat looked certain with Terry Butcher’s side trailing to Kris Doolan’s early strike and down to ten men following defender Michael Nelson’s sending-off only for Stanton to nod the ball beyond Paul Gallacher, the Jags’ star having hitherto enjoyed the sort of afternoon a goalkeeper can only dream about as he pulled of a string of stunning saves.
A point was the least Butcher’s players felt they deserved – just as they believed their efforts should have brought some reward the previous week in the final Edinburgh derby of the season. However, it did, at least, give them some breathing space with the pressure now firmly on tonight’s opponents and Killie.
Forster was forced to watch Saturday’s drama unfold from the stand, the 20-year-old suspended having picked up a sixth booking of the season, but now he’s back in contention for a quick-fire return with Nelson automatically banned for the trip to Dingwall.
And, if given the nod ahead of long-term injury victim James McPake, who was on the bench at the weekend for the first time since last October having undergone a back operation, the youngster admitted he’ll relish a return to the ground where he scored his first goal in a green-and-white shirt.
He said: “It’s never nice to see someone suspended but Michael being out opens the door for either James or me to play. I have to admit the thought had gone through my mind that, with so few games left, my own suspension might mean my season was effectively over should the boys play well and get a victory against Partick. But now there’s an opportunity to get back in and hopefully help the team get the win we need to put everything to bed and I’m sure the fans would rather we got it done tonight than have to try again on Saturday.”
There was a time when the mere mention of playing in Dingwall would send a shiver down the spine of every Hibs supporter, the stadium on the Black Isle having proved something of a bogey ground not only for the Edinburgh club but Butcher who, as boss of Inverness Caley, had also struggled to earn a victory there.
Forster and his team-mates, however, will make the long journey up the A9 comforted by the knowledge that that jinx has been well and truly shattered, Hibs having enjoyed back-to-back wins over Derek Adams’ side on their own turf while completing a hat-trick of victories against the Staggies with a 2-1 triumph at Easter Road in February which, notably, was also their last win.
He said: “The fact we have played well in our last two games but having just one point to show for it is, I think, fairly typical of how the last number of weeks have gone for us.
“We have had little decisions here and there, we’ve played well in some games and got nothing for our troubles although there have been others which we deservedly didn’t take anything from. When you get nothing from a game or one point rather than the three it’s disappointing. We went into the games against Hearts and Partick looking for all six but, at this stage ofthe season, dwelling on disappointments doesn’t do you any good. You have to try your hardest to find some positives and take them into your next game.”
The performances against Hearts and Partick apart, Forster believes the further positives to linger on are the never-say-die attitude which brought that well-deserved equaliser against the Jags, those three straight wins against County and, on a personal level, his goal in Dingwall, the first of four he’s scored in the second half of the season. He said: “I thought we deserved three points against Partick but, at the end of the day, when you are down to ten men, are 1-0 down and there’s only five minutes left then it was a positive for us. We have gone up to Ross County and done well twice already this season and, for me, scoring my first goal for the club there has to be another positive thing to take into tonight’s game.
“I’ve never been great at scoring, maybe one or two a season, but it’s something I’ve worked on so I’m very happy with my goals tally – hopefully there will be another one tonight.”
As a defender, though, Forster wants a clean sheet to go with any goals scored, something Hibs have managed to achieve just once since the turn of the year. “A clean sheet means you haven’t lost the game,” he said. “But the way we are feeling we are confident we can take the game to them, make it really difficult for them and try to score a few goals.
“Both teams are in a relegation scrap so there’s pressure on both as there is in any game. It’s about who copes with it best, you don’t need to put in a good performance but the right performance.”