ISAIAH OSBOURNE today urged his Easter Road team-mates to ignore Dunfermline boss Jim Jefferies’ claims that Hibs remain favourites to win the battle to beat the drop despite the Pars having cut the gap at the bottom of the SPL table to just three points.
A battling draw against St Mirren followed by a stunning 3-0 win over Aberdeen have ignited hope that the Fife club, who went into the post-split programme seven points behind Hibs, could yet escape relegation with the Edinburgh outfit having lost to both Kilmarnock and the Buddies.
Having travelled to Paisley on Sunday, Pat Fenlon’s players follow in the footsteps of Dunfermline again tonight when they face the Dons, albeit at Pittodrie, while Jefferies’ takes his side to Inverness before the bottom two clash at Easter Road on Monday night. The outcome of tonight’s matches could result in a string of different scenarios, the nightmare one for the Hibees being they go into Monday’s showdown level on points. For all Dunfermline have bettered their chances of defying the odds to stay in the top flight, Jefferies insists Hibs remain in the driving seat, claiming the Capital outfit are “still the ones that can throw it away.”
But midfield powerhouse Osbourne believes the former Hearts manager is simply trying to play with the minds of him and his team-mates, urging every one in green to remain focused on steering Hibs to safety through their own efforts rather than worrying about what is happening elsewhere.
He said: “Jim Jefferies has been around the game long enough, he knows what he is doing. It’s a bit like Sir Alex Ferguson, trying to play the mind games thing.
“However, in my mind tonight I won’t be going into the game thinking we are three points ahead of Dunfermline, to me that would be suicide.
“Tonight is vital for us in the circumstances we are in and we have to concentrate solely on getting the three points for ourselves.
“We won’t be interested in what’s happening with Dunfermline or trying to find out what the score is at Inverness during the game. I’m sure it will be the first question we ask afterwards but we can’t start worrying about what might be going on elsewhere, we have to look after ourselves and it is vital we win.
“Regardless of what happens tonight, Monday was always going to be the big one no matter the results tonight and that remains the case.”
While Hibs have drawn blanks in their last two matches, Dunfermline have suddenly found their shooting boots, scoring seven goals as well as clocking up their first home win of the season, but Osbourne believes Fenlon’s side still have the firepower to haul themselves clear of trouble.
He said: “I think our performances against Killie and Saints were good, we just didn’t score. It’s pretty galling in that Kilmarnock only had one shot on goal – a penalty – and St Mirren had two but still managed to win.
“We had good chances to score at Paisley, Eoin Doyle had a couple but missed them – perhaps because he hasn’t been playing too much. But I believe that if he gets another opportunity tonight he’ll put it in the back of the net.
“We’ve got guys like him, Garry O’Connor and Leigh Griffiths, who are more than capable of scoring and hopefully they’ll get the chances to do so against Aberdeen.”
Osbourne admitted, though, that he expects Craig Brown’s Dons to be smarting, not just because Hibs wrecked their dream of a Scottish Cup final but because of their second-half collapse at East End Park. He said: “Maybe it is the wrong time to be getting them when you think about it.
“They’ll probably be looking for a bit of revenge.
“They go into the match knowing they are safe but if we score the first goal who can tell if they’ll have it in them to come back at us.
“Every game between us this season has been very close, one win apiece with only a single goal in it and two no-scoring draws so I’d imagine it will be much the same tonight. But if we create the sort of chances we did on Sunday then I’m confident we’ve got the players to take them.”
Meanwhile, goalkeeper Mark Brown, who came back into the side as a substitute during the semi-final against the Dons after Graham Stack picked up a thigh injury and kept his place after his team-mate was ruled out for the season, confessed to being “frustrated” at finding himself on the losing side in each of his comeback matches despite having had so little to do. But, he insisted, Fenlon’s players can take encouragement from their displays against Killie and Saints before adding: “However, results at this stage of the season are more important than performances.
“Dunfermline have closed the gap to three points but it is still in our hands and I would far rather be in our position than the one they are in. It’s up to us to make sure we get ourselves safe. We have three games left and we want to win all three, not rely on others. We have to be confident in the ability of the squad to get the job done. If we win tonight then the gap will be at least three points.”