Alex Harris has admitted Hibs will travel to Palmerston Park tomorrow nursing a sense of injustice having been toppled from the top of the Championship table by Queen of the South.
As the Dumfries side were maintaining their unbeaten record by beating Raith Rovers, the Capital outfit had their 100 per cent start shattered and with it their chance of becoming the first Hibs team to win their opening six league games of the season.
From manager Neil Lennon down everyone was convinced the red card shown to midfield enforcer Marvin Bartley proved to be a crucial moment in their game against Ayr United, coming with Hibs a goal to the good and looking certain to clinch another three points only for their day to fall apart as Conrad Balatoni and Brian Gilmour claimed a shock win for the Championship newcomers.
The red card has since been rescinded but, as Harris observed: “The damage had already been done.”
Hibs now head to Dumfries a point behind the Doonhamers when they could quite easily have been two ahead and looking to widen that gap.
Harris believes he and his team-mates are more than capable of writing that wrong but, having spent a season on loan with Queens, the 22-year-old admitted it will be far from straightforward against the side which knocked Hibs out of the League Cup even if, in turn, they were on the wrong end of a mauling by Rangers only a few days ago as they made their own exit from the competition.
The winger said: “They’ll be disappointed to have lost to Rangers but they are top of the league, their confidence will be high and, after winning at Easter Road a few weeks ago, they’ll feel that on their day they can beat us again.
“But we also know we can do better than we did in that second half against Ayr. Marvin’s red card may have been rescinded, but the damage has been done. However, in saying that while it’s hard going down to ten we still feel we should have gone on to win. It was disappointing we didn’t go on, get a second goal and put the game to bed.
“There is a feeling of injustice, the disappointment of also not getting six wins in a row but tomorrow is a chance to bounce back and put it right which is what we’ll be looking to do.”
This will be Harris’ first trip back to Palmerston Park after being farmed out by previous boss Alan Stubbs, who had also sent him out on loan to Dundee for the second half of the previous season, and, he admitted, it’s a return he is looking forward to. He said: “I enjoyed my time there so it will be good to see a few familiar faces. We were a bit disappointed where we finished in the league because Queens had done well the previous season – but I have good memories.”
Queens finished seventh having made the play-offs the previous season, a record which cost manager James Fowler his job with his assistant Gavin Skelton now in charge and having made an impressive start to the new campaign.
Harris said: “The players said they wanted to do the same again but we fell short. A lot of players went to bigger clubs and they had to rebuild. Every manager comes in with new ideas and they have started the season well. I got on well with Gavin, he was always there if you wanted a chat. He’s brought new players in and in his first job as a manager he’s made a good start.”
However, the main thing for Harris was that he got the game time he was seeking even if the terms of his loan meant he missed the four matches against Hibs. He said: “It was disappointing not to play in those games but I knew that would be the case when I signed. Even so, it was a bit weird sitting in the stand for those games in my Queen of the South tracksuit – especially at Easter Road.
“I wasn’t in the previous manager’s plans here and I needed to be playing games and going to Queens gave me the chance to do that. It was important and I feel I have come back a better player.”
Although Lennon has spoken highly of Harris, he has yet to force his way into his manager’s starting line-up although he has been a regular on the bench and was on from the first whistle in the Irn-Bru victory over Turriff United. And, with Hibs having made a promising beginning to the season, that blip against Ayr aside, Harris accepts he’ll have to display a measure of patience, having been assured that after 18 months spent elsewhere this is now a fresh start for him at Easter Road.