As someone who has a sideline as a boxing promoter, Hibs midfielder Marvin Bartley knows the value of being able to roll with the punches.
Sunday’s League Cup final defeat by Ross County felt like a haymaker to the jaw and left him dazed on the Hampden turf as the Highland victors savoured their knockout blow afterwards.
As much as he is hurting, though, Bartley clings to the belief that he and his team-mates have enough resolve to pick themselves up off the canvas and salvage their season.
They travel to Inverness for a Scottish Cup quarter-final replay tomorrow night and then return to Championship action away to Raith Rovers on Saturday as they bid to regain second place from Falkirk and ensure they have some form of advantage going into the end-of-season play-offs in two months’ time.
“I’m heartbroken, but sometimes feeling cut up like this can be a good thing because it makes you never want to feel like this again,” Bartley said. “We need to remember the feeling that we’ve had since Sunday and use it to drive us forward, starting against Inverness.
“The season simply has to end on a high for us. Promotion was the main aim when I came to Hibs and that remains the case. The cups are bonuses. Promotion is what it’s all about.”
Bartley admits he barely paid any attention as County went up to collect the trophy on Sunday. Although he felt Hibs dominated the match, he was in no mood for making excuses for their inability to win. As one of his side’s most experienced players the 29-year-old recognises that, when it comes to cup finals, winning is the be all and end all. “I was in a daze when they were picking up the trophy,” he said. “I wasn’t really with it, to be honest. When they went up, I was extremely upset and I wasn’t really taking it all in.
“It’s tough to take but that’s football – one of us had to lose. We lost the game, so it’s neither here nor there whether we feel we did enough. We had a lot of possession but if you’re not putting the ball in the back of the net, then it doesn’t really matter. They did it twice, we did it once, so that’s all that matters at the end of the day.”
Bartley was an impressive performer in Hibs’ midfield, but despite his best efforts, he was helpless to prevent either County goal. For the opener, he looked all set to make an excellent goal-saving tackle on Michael Gardyne, but the ball ricocheted perfectly into the path of the County man, who was able to stroke the ball into an empty net. “If I do that tackle 100 times, I think 99 times the ball would ricochet off him and go clear but it seemed to come off his knee which has taken it past the keeper,” said the Londoner. “There was a lot of luck behind that goal.”
After Liam Fontaine’s equaliser on the stroke of half-time, Bartley felt his side were the likeliest winners. In the end, however, he found himself scampering back, desperately trying to stop Gardyne delivering the cross from the left which Fontaine inadvertently knocked into the path of County’s winning goal hero, Alex Schalk.
“We had plenty of the ball and I didn’t think they were going to score,” he said. “Even when I chased the guy [Gardyne] back and he crossed it, I still didn’t think they were going to score from it but the ball ended up in the back of the net. I wasn’t close enough to stop him getting a cross in but he had a massive head-start on me. I hoped we were going to deal with it when the cross went into the box, but that’s football. It was one of those freaky things.”
Bartley was also involved in a second-half flashpoint when many deemed him fortunate to avoid a red card after appearing to catch Brian Graham with a flailing elbow as the two jousted for possession near the County by-line. The Englishman was livid at being cautioned and dismissed any notion that he should have been sent off. “I think it was the wrong decision to book me,” said Bartley. “I tried to run round him and he’s basically tried to throw his body across me. My arm did hit him but it was an extremely soft booking. All in all, I thought the ref had a good game though.”