Aberdeen have shown what can be done and now Owain Tudur Jones believes Hibs, despite enduring another miserable season, can follow in the Pittodrie club’s footsteps.
Tonight’s opponents finished below the Easter Road outfit last season, but under Derek McInnes have enjoyed a remarkable revival. They’ve already won the League Cup and have their sights firmly set on adding the Scottish Cup and second place in the Premiership to that roll of honour. Like Aberdeen, Hibs have been one of Scottish football’s great underachievers in recent seasons. A fourth successive bottom-six finish will have left no-one in any doubt that boss Terry Butcher will have to oversee a massive transformation in his playing staff in the summer months.
The Hibs manager will probably be working to a more restricted budget than that enjoyed by McInnes in the Granite City over the past few months but, as one of Butcher’s imports when he was manager of Inverness Caledonian Thistle, Tudur Jones is confident the big Englishman can lay the foundations for future success. The Welsh internationalist said: “I think it’s going to be another summer of ins and outs at the football club. I’m led to believe that’s something that’s happened too regularly. But for a side to be successful you have to get continuity, the manager getting the right balance and tweaking his squad rather than making wholesale changes.
“This season hasn’t been as successful as people would have wished – we certainly hoped for far better going into it. We felt we had a strong enough squad to really establish the club up in the top half of the table, something it’s missed out on in previous years.
“It’s not quite happened on the pitch. We feel we have good players but finding the right balance has not been possible.
“It’s been a pretty nothing season. We have played well in patches, but not for long enough. Aberdeen are almost like a benchmark for us. They hadn’t done well in the last few years, hadn’t been as successful as they would have hoped for a big club like them. They finished below Hibs last season but they’ve now taken giant strides, got themselves into a good position and are battling it out with Motherwell for second place.
“There’s been a big transformation and that’s something we want to achieve next season and in the years going forward.”
The fact Hibs have endured a bottom-six finish yet again is reflected in one simple statistic: they’ve managed to beat a side from the upper half of the table just once – a 2-1 win away to St Johnstone way back in September. Tonight’s match offers a final opportunity to add to that miserable tally.
It is, as Tudur Jones acknowledged, a tough challenge, the former Norwich City midfielder saying: “Aberdeen have impressed me. They have good balance in their side, good energy, good players with good pace in the forward areas. They’ve beaten us twice so we will be trying to put one over on them which would give massive confidence to the players and the supporters.
“It’s the last time we’ll face a top-six side this season and that’s a challenge we haven’t really stood up to. We’ve had a poor record against the top six sides and it’s the last chance to correct it – at least a little.”
Victory would also help Hibs take a massive step towards ensuring they don’t become locked in a battle to avoid the play-off place, the four-point cushion they currently enjoy over Partick Thistle not enough to offer Butcher, his players and their fans too much in the way of comfort.
And Tudur Jones, who has been out with a hamstring injury for weeks, admits he’s looking forward to playing his part in ensuring Hibs at least enjoy something of a revival during the closing games of the season.
Declaring himself fit and available after playing two games for the club’s under-20 side, he said: “It’s been frustrating but whether you are out for a week, a fortnight or a year that’s how you feel.
“Going to a game and not being able to help is frustrating. When the team is winning you want to be part of it and when it isn’t doing so well you wish you could be out there trying to help in whatever way possible. We are where we are and we know what needs to be done in the remaining games. We are certainly nowhere near meeting the expectations we had going into the season or even midway through, but we want to finish on something of a high, which is important to everyone going into the summer. No-one wants to finish in a negative fashion, we know we have six games to try to get the points on the board and establish ourselves as the best of the bottom six. That’s not something any of us wanted but we want to end the season in the position we are now in, seventh.”
Tudur Jones, however, accepted the threat of becoming embroiled in the play-off battle is a reality, Hibs having won just one league game since beating Hearts on January 2 – the hurt the fans have experienced only exacerbated by defeat at Tynecastle last weekend.
He said: “The play-off spot is a reality until it becomes mathematically impossible for us to finish 11th. We are positive we can do that and I’d far rather be where we are than the teams below us. It’s far better to have the points we have than to be chasing but we’ve been on a poor run of form that needs to be put right.”