As far as many are concerned, it’s a battle Hibs can’t win, the Easter Road club in freefall and seemingly powerless to stop themselves being dragged into a desperate play-off battle to preserve their Scottish Premiership status.
Five straight defeats and just one win in 14 league matches provides plenty of ammunition for that argument, with Terry Butcher’s players, having eyed a top-six finish only a few weeks ago, now a mere three points off 11th place.
Grim reading the statistics might make, but on-loan Sunderland kid Duncan Watmore need only glance at what’s happened at the Stadium of Light to realise that the crazy world of football can be made to stand on its head virtually overnight,
Without a win in ten matches, the Black Cats were staring deep into the abyss, rock bottom of the Premier League with the trapdoor which would plunge them into the Championship creaking open. Away matches against Manchester City and Chelsea, who were embroiled in a title race with Liverpool, would, it seemed were certain to confirm their fate.
Gus Poyet’s side, however, stunned everyone, coming within two minutes of victory at Eastlands, that 2-2 draw followed three days later by a shock 2-1 win over Chelsea. Sunderland may remain bottom of the pile, but now they are only three points from safety – and with a game in hand over Fulham, Cardiff and Norwich City, the three teams ahead of them.
Terry Butcher’s players, of course, still hold the upper hand in their own battle despite a woeful run which stretches back to mid-January, but today 19-year-old Watmore, while insisting he and his team-mates remain confident of avoiding even deeper trouble, admitted they could take inspiration from events on Wearside.
The winger said: “It’s not a situation I’d have wanted to see at either club with both fighting to stay up. But while I can only watch hope Sunderland do so, I can play my part in helping Hibs get out of the spot of bother we are in.
“And what has happened at Sunderland shows just how quickly things can change in football. This time last week I’d imagine almost everybody had them relegated, particularly with away games against City and Chelsea coming up. So to get four points against those two clubs was unbelievable. They’re right back in it and have given themselves a real good chance.
“Had it not been for that late goal City scored, it could have been six points from the two games, but I’m sure they’d have happily taken four beforehand. It’s difficult to say how they approached those two games. You could say they’d think they had nothing to lose, but at the same time they needed the results to keep their hope of staying up alive, so there’s pressure in some respect.
“But it does show you what a team can do when they work together and stick at it.”
The same attitude, Watmore insisted, will work for Hibs, the difference here in Scotland, however, being that with the Premiership “split”, Hibs are now engaged in a tight battle against the other sides in the lower half of the table, turning each game into the proverbial “six-pointer.”
The Capital club lost the first of those head-to-head clashes to St Mirren with Butcher’s players firmly in the spotlight, their problems having become the story of the tail end of the season with assistant boss Maurice Malpas claiming many were enjoying watching Hibs squirm, although Watmore admitted he could understand the huge interest.
He said: “Hibs is a massive club with national coverage up here and rightly so. We all know what we need to do in the situation we find ourselves, that we need to get ourselves out of it and that it’s up to us players to do that.
“We know we are right in it, we have to get some wins. We are desperate to do so and we all believe we can do it. We’ll be treating each game with the importance it deserves and we are confident we can get the results as we are all pushing in the right direction.”
Only a few weeks ago the gap between Hibs and 11th place appeared of little consequence, Butcher and his players having their eyes firmly fixed on a top six finish for the first time in four seasons only for that dream to evaporate and their miserable run of results to continue.
Watmore admitted it was a scenario he didn’t envisage when he signed on for the remainder of the season in January, saying: “It’s strange how football can work. We were looking at the top six and felt we could get it. You can never be complacent in football and I don’t think we were, but it’s how it works, a few losses and you are right back in it.”
A distinct lack of goals has left Hibs struggling, Watmore’s first strike for the club in a 3-1 defeat by Partick Thistle at Firhill being the only one scored in their last six matches. The youngster said: “Obviously not scoring has been a big problem for us, we know that we need to carry more attacking threat, that we need to create more chances and to finish them.
“We haven’t been doing that well enough in our last few games, but we need to start scoring as we know we can,”
Luck often appears to desert teams in Hibs’ situation, Watmore adamant fate had conspired against them in the last Edinburgh derby when Jordon Forster had a late header which would have cancelled out Dale Carrick’s earlier opener, chopped off for offside, assistant referee Alasdair Ross apologising to Butcher afterwards for getting his decision so horribly wrong.
Watmore said: “We felt we were extremely unlucky because Jordon was so clearly onside. It was a massive moment, it could have totally changed the game and we can only wonder if we’d have got a point or gone on to win. When you are down, luck seems to go against you, but, at the same time, you have go get on with it and make your own luck.”
While Hibs fans headed to Tynecastle only to have their plans for a “relegation party” shattered, Hearts supporters will traipse across to Easter Road on Sunday confident of enjoying an afternoon at their greatest rivals’ expense.
However, Watmore was adamant he and his team-mates can be the party-poopers this time round, saying: “A lot of people seem to be looking at the situation we are in as if it’s a head-to-head between us and one other team, but, in fact, four teams need to overtake us. We’ve got three of our last four games at home and we are confident we’ll get ourselves out of trouble – starting on Sunday.
“There will be that edge you only get in a derby, they’ll be coming here aiming to win just as we will be looking for the three points and then aiming to build on that and pull ourselves away from the danger zone.”