In all five of their Premiership games this season, Hibs have had to contend with losing the first goal.
While this is not an ideal scenario, it says much about the resolve within Neil Lennon’s team that they have fought back to take at least a point from four of those matches.
Against both Partick Thistle and Rangers last month, Hibs conceded in the opening seven minutes and recovered to win 3-1 and 3-2 respectively. And away to both Dundee and St Johnstone, the Easter Road side have found themselves a goal down and responded strongly to draw 1-1. Indeed, the consensus is that their performances in both of those Tayside stalemates were dominant enough to have merited Hibs taking full points back to Edinburgh.
The only occasion in which they have been unable to overcome a deficit was in the 3-1 defeat at home to Hamilton Accies. Efe Ambrose acknowledges that Hibs’ trend of allowing their opponents a goal of a start needs halted in order to stop undermining their progress on their return to the top flight, but the Nigerian defender is heartened by his team’s resilience in the face of adversity
“We don’t want to concede the first goal because if your mentality is not strong, it can shatter your gameplan and cause you to panic – it can be difficult,” Ambrose told the Evening News. “But this team has good mental strength. The gaffer always tells us that if we concede a goal, the most important thing is how we bounce back from it. You can fall behind without doing much wrong. An opponent can shoot from 30 yards and it can take a deflection and go in, so we have to be prepared mentally for the possibility of falling behind.
“We are always mindful of this, so if we do fall behind, we know that the next step is to bounce back and make sure we score a goal. No matter what happens to us in a game, we know we have to keep playing to the end. That is the mentality we have. It is not good to concede first, though, so we need to do better defensively as well.”
In addition to avoiding falling behind, Ambrose knows that Hibs must find a way of capitalising on the chances they are creating. In their last two games, against Dundee and St Johnstone, they have enjoyed the lion’s share of pressure and sights of goal, but been unable to turn one point into three on either occasion.
“We did enough to win the game on Saturday in terms of the chances we created and the tempo we played at,” Ambrose continued. “The disappointing thing was that we didn’t convert the chances but you can see there is a positivity in the team, with the character and mentality. After being a goal down, we stood up, fought to pull a goal back and then deserved to win.
“It was very similar to the Dundee game. We fell behind, came back and then had a lot of chances. The gaffer has been telling us we need to utilise our chances and be ruthless. You can concede goals but the most important thing is that you score goals. We could easily have scored four goals on Saturday and we would have won 4-1, but one goal is not good enough for the amount of chances we had. The gaffer was pleased with the performance but he was not pleased with the outcome. We need to do better up front. We need to look at our mistakes and work on them for the next game against Motherwell.”
Although there is a sense of frustration in the Hibs camp that they only have eight points to show from their efforts despite being the better team in four of their five matches so far, Ambrose is encouraged by the fact his sixth-place team have been able to go to notoriously tough Premiership destinations like Ibrox and McDiarmid Park and pin their hosts back for long periods.
“St Johnstone are a great team who have been together for a long time and we know how difficult it is to go to there stadium and play in their half of the pitch,” said the former Celtic defender. “It is not a good place for any team to go because it is so difficult. For us to get a draw and still feel that we should have won has to go down as a credit.”
After a match when the back four of David Gray, Ambrose, Paul Hanlon and Steven Whittaker hardly gave Saints a clear sight of goal all afternoon, the Nigerian remains irked that the Perth side punished his team by scoring on the one occasion they managed to cut them open, when Michael O’Halloran ran unchecked into the danger area to tap in a Liam Craig cross following an impressive breakaway. The fact the Hibs attackers were unable to be as clinical as O’Halloran whenever opportunity knocked added to Ambrose’s sense of frustration.
“Apart from the goal, we were very secure defensively,” he said. “They only had one real chance but unfortunately they got the goal from it. We had more threat on their goal, but we only scored once. We need to work hard to get things right for the next game.”
Darren McGregor’s injury paved the way for Ambrose to return to the starting line-up on Saturday after being benched at Dens Park. The Nigerian is disappointed that his fellow centre-back is facing a few weeks on the sidelines as he prepares to undergo a minor knee operation, but is adamant that Lennon’s squad is strong enough to cope with any absences over the course of the season. “The squad is big enough,” he said. “We have strength and depth in all positions. We don’t just have a first XI – we have a big squad with everybody ready to play. It just depends who the gaffer picks for each game.”