John McGinn has refuted the suggestion that exiting the Betfred Cup early may prove to be a blessing in disguise for Hibs as they chase promotion to the Premiership for the third season in a row.
The Easter Road outfit found themselves fighting on three fronts last season, reaching the final of the League Cup and winning the Scottish Cup, only to be pipped to second place in the Championship table by Falkirk and thus ending their hopes of a return to the top flight.
It was a marathon season as far as the Capital outfit were concerned, many pinpointing the 54 games played as being behind their falling short of what had been their No.1 target throughout.
Hibs had faced Queen of the South on Tuesday night hoping it would mark the first step on a return to Hampden in the competition in which they lost in the last minute to Ross County last time round, but having taken a first half lead through Paul Hanlon, they were left shattered by a second half fightback from the Dumfries to prevail worthy victors with a 3-1 success.
McGinn, however, insisted no-one within the home dressing room had even thought of the lighter workload their defeat may have brought, the Scotland midfielder saying: “We were motivated to go one further than least season when we lost the final in the last minute – that was really sore to take at the time.
“But I don’t think being involved in all three competitions last season had a big effect on us. It was our performances in important games that cost us doing anything in the league. We were really keen to get back to Hampden and do things in the cup competitions.
“It was tough to take. You always want to win every game and we were really keen to be involved in another cup run like we managed last season. So to go in at half-time at home, as favourites and in the lead only to end up losing the game was really disappointing. It’s something we are going to have to change going forward in the league.”
New Hibs boss Neil Lennon had already highlighted a lack of goals – just 59 scored in 36 league games last season – as being a major factor in Hibs failing to win promotion and again, conceded McGinn, that weakness had been on display against Queens, striker Grant Holt and defender Liam Fontaine in particular guilty of bad misses which would have had the game over by half-time.
“It should have been over by then,” admitted Lennon, “We knew the second goal was important. We had a few chances in the first half to put the game out of sight. But fair play to Queen of the South, they came back at us in the second half and had a go. They were clinical and they deserve to be in the next round.”
McGinn confessed to being taken aback at not being able to add to Hanlon’s strike, pointing out how Hibs had scored six against Edinburgh City and then four more at Shrewsbury Town during their pre-seson programme, but insisted it was just one part of the game he and his team-mates are working hard to improve.
The former St Mirren player said: “To win a league or get promoted you need to score a lot of goals. Last season we didn’t do enough of that. This season we have scored a lot of goals through pre-season. Against Queens it just wasn’t meant to be. In the final third we didn’t have that bit of quality that was needed.
“The new management team have tried to instil in us that we need to be more ruthless. Easter Road was a tough place to go for teams last season so it was disappointing to lose at home. We need to be a lot more ruthless in the final third and in our own box if we want to be successful. The other night was not a good example.
“We’re doing crossing and finishing drills, one-to-one finishing exercises, but it’s all about putting it into practice in games. During pre-season I think that was evident. It was all going nicely”
McGinn revealed that, unsurprisingly, Lennon had been less than pleased with him and his team-mates. The 21-year-old said: “He was angry and rightly so, the players were angry too.
“We were a shadow of the team that had performed well in pre-seaso and in our first game against Falkirk so he was entitled to be angry. It’s not a side of him we want to be seeing too often. If he’s angry, it’s us not doing our job. We want to make sure he’s in the right frame of mind because we’re performing well and getting results.”
Speaking as he welcomed 47 boys and girls, the latest intake of the Scottish FA Performance School as they were welcomed to the programme at Oriam, Scotland’s new sports performance centre on the Heriot-Watt University campus at Riccarton, McGinn attempted to reassure Hibs fans who might be worried to have seen him and his team-mates fall at home to another Championship side.
He said: “It wasn’t a performance we were proud of, but hopefully it’s only a minor blip for us.”
Agreeing with Lennon’s assertion that he hadn’t seen any evidence of Hibs being the passing team for which they’d become renowned, he said: “I think that was fair. Anyone could see it wasn’t good enough and it’s up to us to prove the manager wrong and show we are a passing team.
“We know from the squad and last season that we’ve got it in our locker. I think we have a nice mix. We can play football and we’ve brought in Grant Holt and that gives us another option up top. He started off well for us and he brings experience. There are certain times when you do need to go a bit longer, and that’s something we are learning.”
After beating Falkirk away in their opening Championship match, McGinn conceded Hibs had missed the chance to lay down another “marker” in losing to Queens, while watching Dunfermline assistant Sandy Clark would no doubt have left Easter Road believing there’s something for the newly-promoted Pars when they make the trip across the Forth on Saturday.
He said: “We’ve got to come out of the traps early against Dunfermline and put this defeat to bed. Hopefully at the end of the game the manager is talking about us in a positive sense.”