James McPake always calls a spade a spade, so it came as little surprise that the candid captain was in no mood for making excuses as he tried to get to the root of Hibs’ dismal SPL form of late.
Asked why he thinks his side are in a potentially season-destroying rut in which they have taken only seven points from a possible 30 over the past two-and-a-half months, he didn’t beat about the bush. “Bad performances are the main reason,” he said, still visibly hurt by Monday night’s 3-1 capitulation at home to St Johnstone. “The manner of Monday’s defeat was particularly disappointing. That was our worst of the season by far. The first 15 minutes or so were fairly even but after we lost the first goal, we folded, which we’ve not really been doing this season.
“We’ve been pretty resolute, and when we’ve lost a goal we’ve usually managed to get our shape back and get back into games. We didn’t do that on Monday and it wasn’t acceptable at all. It was a massive letdown for all the fans who came out to watch us.”
While acknowledging that the supporters were entitled to feel angry and frustrated, McPake admitted Monday was one of his most harrowing nights as a Hibs player. “When you’re 3-0 down and the fans are turning on you, you have to stay in footballer mode and try to forget the score at the time. It’s hard when you’re 3-0 down because – although it happens sometimes – it’s unlikely that you’re going to get back into the game. The fans have a right to turn on us – which they did a little on Monday – and I can see why they did. It eats you up after a game like that. When you’re going home, you don’t want that disappointing feeling. You want to be going happy.”
The feelgood factor generated by Hibs’ early-season renaissance has fast given way to a concern that bad habits of recent gloom-filled campaigns are rearing their head again. McPake admits every player – himself included – needs to do more to ensure the rot is not allowed to return to Easter Road long-term. “When I was going home after the game, it kind of felt like a defeat from last season,” he said. “When you’ve given it a real go and a team’s just been better than you on the night, sometimes you’ve just got to hold your hands up and accept that there wasn’t much more you could do, but I don’t think any of us – apart from maybe [goalkeeper] Ben Williams – could have gone home, looked in the mirror and said we had worked hard enough or put in even a half-decent performance.
“We just weren’t good enough all over the park. The manager had his say, and that was enough. He wasn’t happy, and rightly so. None of us could have had any arguments. For the past wee while, we’ve not been good enough as a team. It’s easy enough for me to sit here and say we’ll put it right on Saturday, but we need to make sure we get back to putting on the type of performances that the fans and this club deserve.”
The only saving grace for Hibs is that a strong start to the season, allied to the incredibly cutthroat nature of the league this term, means they remain in the top six – for now. By close of play on Saturday, Hibs could feasibly find themselves either joint third or down in the bottom six. McPake acknowledges it would be catastrophic if it were the latter. “Thankfully at the moment, our start has made sure we’re still in the mix,” he said. “If we hadn’t started well, we’d have been in a relegation battle by now. We can’t let that good start to the season go to waste, though.
“We’ve lost a few games and our results don’t make for great reading but we’re not in a crisis. We’ve got a massive few weeks coming up and we need to make sure we’re in the top six. We’ve got to get back to playing well and then the results will take care of themselves because when we are playing well, I think we’re one of the best teams in the league.
“Every team has a bad spell but at the moment we’re going through a prolonged bad spell. The result and performance against Celtic [at the end of December] was great from us and then we went to Tynecastle and came away with a point, which was a good result for us, so we were thinking maybe that was us back on track because we had been through a bad spell before those games. But unfortunately we’ve had a few more bad performances since then. It might just take a goal to get us back on track. By Saturday, we could be joint third again, which just shows you how tight this league is. We can’t dwell on Monday’s game or we will get sucked down the league – we need to get the heads back up.”
Things don’t get any easier for Hibs as their next two games are away to two of the form teams in the league – St Mirren and then Dundee United. McPake insists that, despite their recent struggles, his side will approach those games with relish. “It suits us to go straight back into a game on Saturday after what happened on Monday,” he said. “Thankfully the games are coming thick and fast now. We’ve a tough game in Paisley but we need to go there and try and show the same confidence we did when we won there earlier in the season.”