Keith Wright is suffering as much as any Hibs fan at the moment, pained not only by the fact the Easter Road club have been condemned to Championship football but are struggling to adjust to life in the lower division.
Three defeats in their opening four matches has resulted in the Capital outfit languishing near the foot of the table, their predicament only highlighted by the sight of arch-rivals Hearts sitting top of the pile and boasting a 100 per cent record.
Little wonder, then, that the Hibs support are restless, the hurt of relegation and the manner of their club’s fall from grace still very raw while the underwhelming start they have made has only served to heighten concern over whether an instant return to the Premiership is within the powers of Alan Stubbs’ squad.
However, having been through similar situations himself in the six years in which he pulled on a Hibs shirt, the former striker insisted it is up to the players themselves to turn the situation around.
The Skol Cup hero, below, stated: “I had six great years at Hibs, but it wasn’t all glory. There were times when you hadn’t won for four or five games and were about to play, say, St Mirren or Motherwell at home and you knew the fans were going to be quiet, that one mistake or falling behind and they’d be letting their feelings known.
“But there were also times when you’d won three on the trot, you couldn’t wait for the next game because everything you hit was going into the back of the net and you knew the fans were going to be right behind you from the first whistle.
“When things aren’t going as well as you’d like – as is the case at the moment – there’s only one group of people who can change it – the players. You have to be big and strong, especially at home. The next game, Cowdenbeath at Easter Road, isn’t the most glamorous of matches but it will be up to the players to get out there, take it by the scruff of the neck. No-one will be expecting anything other than a convincing victory but the players can’t just hope that will be the case, they’ve got to make it happen.”
Wright, a Midlothian Council football development officer, conceded that Stubbs would probably settle for a scruffy 1-0 win to guarantee the three points, but he insisted his players have to display a mental resilience in such games, arguing that matches against Hearts and Rangers will take care of themselves but also accepting that, with the majority of the current squad having gone through the agonies of that ignominious collapse last season, confidence will be fragile.
He said: “They have to accept, though, that they won’t be running out at Easter Road to a full house with everyone singing and dancing unless they are winning. Everyone is obviously disappointed Hibs are not in the top division, but if they begin winning and building a bit of momentum the fans will come out and get behind them, just as they did last time.”
While some have questioned the quality of Stubbs’ squad, Wright feels it is one capable of competing at the top end of the Championship and, although the new season is only four games old, he acknowledged the need to ensure the gap between Hibs and Hearts – currently nine points – and Rangers – six points – isn’t allowed to widen.
He said: “I think they have got a really good manager in Alan Stubbs. He’ll know the size of the task ahead of him. I do think on paper they have players with a lot of talent but they haven’t put it together yet. That’s up to the manager and his coaching staff and I am sure they are working tirelessly with them. The games against Hearts and Rangers will take care of themselves, it’s the matches against the other clubs where you are expected to win that are perhaps more difficult. You are used to playing in big grounds with big crowds and you have to be able to adapt to going to smaller grounds with much smaller crowds.”
Wright believes it is up to all of the players, the experienced pros and those taking the early steps in their careers, to pull together and stop the rot. He said: “The easy part for a young player is to get his chance, the hardest bit is to do it week in, week out. When youngsters like Scott Brown, Steven Whittaker and Kevin Thomson were coming through, they showed a greater consistency than Alex Harris, Sam Stanton and Danny Handling are at the moment. They have to prove in every game that they are good players at a big club. But there is also a massive responsibility on the senior players. They have to produce the goods themselves in a pressure situation but they also have to look after the kids trying to make a name for themselves. The youngsters will make mistakes in games but they have to learn quickly and the more experienced guys can help in that regard.
“Being a professional player isn’t always a great life. At times like this when you are a Hibs player you can’t go out to the shops or stop for petrol without the supporters giving it to you straight. You have to be able to handle it, to take it on the chin and let them see you can turn things around.
“The quicker you get on a run the better, I don’t think there’s any doubt they’ll be up there towards the end of the season, everything will come good but they cannot let Hearts and Rangers get too far ahead, they have to get in amongst them.”
With the transfer window having closed, Stubbs has strengthened his squad by the loan signings of Celtic midfielder Dylan McGeouch and Southampton striker Jake Sinclair, aged 21 and 19 respectively. Prior to those moves, speculation was rife that Leigh Griffiths would be returning to Easter Road. Wright would love to have seen the hitman back at Hibs but acknowledges that it was always a fanciful hope given the wage bracket in which Griffiths finds himself in Glasgow.
However, he believes both McGeouch and Sinclair could prove to be shrewd signings by Stubbs, who made his name as a coach with Everton’s Under-21 side where he helped nurture the likes of Ross Barkley, Seamus Coleman and John Stones into the first team.
Wright said: “You aren’t at the clubs they’ve come from if you aren’t a good player. Coming to Hibs will be massive for both of them. They’ll be looking to do well knowing their parent clubs will be watching, it will be important for them to make sure they are playing well and that can only benefit both them and Hibs.”