Hibs skipper David Gray has insisted there’s no need to panic despite the Easter Road club crashing to three successive defeats which have, in effect, ended their hopes of clinching automatic promotion by winning the Championship title.
On-loan Rangers midfielder Andy Murdoch’s strike to earn Queen of the South victory and so bring a miserable week in which they’d also lost to Morton and Dumbarton to a end couldn’t have come at a worse time for Alan Stubbs’ players with a Scottish Cup quarter-final against Inverness Caley on Sunday and Hampden showdown with Ross County in the final of the League Cup seven days later set to test their character to the full.
And if seeing league leaders Rangers disappear into the distance – the Ibrox club have an advantage of 14 points with only nine games remaining – Falkirk are now very much breathing down the necks of the Capital side having trimmed the gap between second and third places to a single point.
By the time Hibs are next in league action, on the evening of Saturday March 19, away to Raith Rovers, the Bairns could well have overhauled them, Peter Houston’s side facing fixtures against basement outfit Alloa Athletic at home, a trip to Dumbarton and then a visit from Rangers in a match pulled forward 24 hours to accommodate television cameras.
It’s a worrying time for Stubbs, his players and their fans who, up until a few days ago, were boasting a record of just one defeat in 28 matches as they battled for success on three fronts. But they are now confronted with having lost three games on the bounce for the first time in almost a year.
Queen of the South, coincidentally, were the third of the teams to have beaten Hibs back then although Stubbs’ players responded by winning their next five Championship matches to clinch second place which, unfortunately, wasn’t good enough as they lost the play-off semi-final to Rangers and were condemned to another season in Scotland’s second tier.
However, Gray insisted he and his team-mates weren’t looking any further ahead than this weekend, the right back adamant no-one at Easter Road can afford to start feeling sorry for themselves with the focus now entirely on getting back to winning ways,
He said: “It’s only us who can get ourselves out of this and turn it around. We’ve had a great season up to now and we are involved in three competitions so we have to make sure we don’t go feeling sorry for ourselves.
“We were on a great run, full of confidence and now we are on the back of three disappointing results. But we have some massive games coming up and we have to put that right.”
Stubbs insisted in the wake of defeat at Palmerston Park he could just as easily have been talking about three wins and a great week for the club while adamant that as quickly as Hibs’ form appears to have deserted them, things could again turn in his side’s favour.
Gray agreed, saying: “We know the hard work that has been put in and that things can quickly turn round again. But we need to get back to winning ways as quickly as possible.
“It’s not a case for panicking but one of working hard and preparing for what lies ahead.”
If fans are worried about the slump ahead of two such massive games, Gray, while admitting it “wasn’t great” to be approaching them with such a poor run of results, insisted: “I wouldn’t say we are concerned.
“All the boys are disappointed, but they know we need to get back in and put it right. We’ve a great game to look forward to at Easter Road on Sunday, there will be a wonderful atmosphere and it is a great opportunity. With a good performance we can win it.”
Hibs success in the cup competitions has resulted in a hectic schedule for Stubbs’ players, the trip to Dumfries their third game in less than a week and their ninth in just 31 days but Gray refused to use that as an excuse, adamant that performances haven’t been as bad as these results might suggest.
He said: “I don’t think it’s taking its toll. There are still a lot of games to go, everything to play for. We have a great squad, there’s no fatigue or tiredness, it’s more a case of not producing the goods at the minute. We aim to put that right at the weekend.”
And Gray was equally adamant that the squad has taken responsibility for results along with Stubbs although the head coach conceded that individual mistakes had proved costly against both Morton and Dumbarton when, as on Tuesday night, Hibs had their opportunities to take the lead and potentially change the outcome of each of those games.
The former Manchester United trainee said: “The gaffer told us after the game [against Queens] that we are not getting the results at the minute, that we are the only ones who can turn it around, us collectively.
“It’s not a case of pointing fingers at anyone, individual errors and having a go at anyone. We win as a team and we lose as a team. We are all together. First and foremost we need to get ourselves back to winning ways.”
Stubbs professed to being left “baffled” as to how his side had been beaten by James Fowler’s team, a feeling shared by his captain who said: “I don’t think Ox [goalkeeper Mark Oxley] had much to do, to be honest. I think we dominated the game but we huffed and puffed and never really created or took that final pass to finish things off.
“Our execution in final third wasn’t up to standard and we suffered for that because they have gone and scored. That’s the difference between the teams.”
Asked if he thought automatic promotion was now beyond Hibs’ reach, Gray insisted all thoughts of the league had now been put on hold as he and his team-mates ready themselves for cup action.
He said: “There are 27 points to play for, but more importantly for us is we have to get ourselves back on winning ways rather than think of anything else at the minute.”