Liam Craig and his team-mates did, of course, take more than a passing interest in yesterday’s draw for the fifth round of the Scottish Cup, anxious to see who they’ll be facing in the first week of February.
However, after a brief chat as they digested the news of a home tie against Arbroath, all talk of the cup and the Hampden dream ceased with Alan Stubbs’ side, at least for the time being, having more pressing business to attend to over the next few weeks.
Saturday’s trip to Craig’s old club Falkirk marks the beginning of a crucial period in the Easter Road club’s season with back-to-back matches against Rangers and Hearts, currently second and first in the Championship table, marking their last game of this year and the first of 2015.
Between now and then, in addition to the Bairns, they’ll also take on Alloa Athletic at home before travelling across the Forth to face Raith Rovers, all three of those sides having inflicted a degree of damage on Hibs who, after a slow start to the season, find themselves trailing their Capital rivals and Rangers by 16 points and seven respectively.
So, while delighted to have squeezed by Alloa to maintain their interest in the cup, Craig insisted it’s of vital importance that their entire focus now be trained on each of those games in turn, the skipper anxious that Stubbs’ players continue their recent run of form – unbeaten over 90 minutes in their last 11 outings, while six successive away wins have been recorded.
While accepting the absence of six Premiership clubs enhances the hopes of those remaining in the cup, the midfielder said: “We’re not going to get carried away. We’re on a good run, but it’s back to league business and we have five massive games coming up through December and into the start of January.
“Falkirk, Alloa and Raith are teams round about us in the table and then there’s Rangers and Hearts at the turn of the year, so we have to forget all about the Scottish Cup. Of course you want to know who you’ll be playing, but it wouldn’t have mattered who we drew. The next round isn’t until the beginning of February, so all that is concerning us today is Falkirk on Saturday.”
The Bairns escaped from Easter Road with all three points earlier in the season, despite having played second best to Hibs for much of the game but, Craig insisted, revenge isn’t the buzz word but a determination to clock up a seventh successive win “on the road” before Alloa come calling, a game in which the 27-year-old hopes to see the Edinburgh club’s home record – just one game in seven lost but only two wins claimed – begin to improve.
He said: “Six away wins on the spin is incredible – we’ve been to tough places like Ross County, Ibrox, Cowdenbeath and Alloa – but we need to be doing better at home. Our form hasn’t been bad – we’ve been playing well, but our results need to be better.”
Craig, however, would argue that recent weeks have shown Hibs are no longer the soft touch so many regarded them as, the manner in which they fought back after losing a shock goal to Alloa when goalkeeper Mark Oxley allowed a tame shot from Wasps defender Daryll Meggatt to slip through his hands further proof of the determination and resilience installed by Stubbs.
“I’m not going to stand here and lie,” said Craig. “Sometimes at Hibs when something like that happens you feel you are up against it, but we didn’t let if affect us. We’d started the game really well, but these things happen. Big Mark will have another ten shots like that and he’ll deal with them comfortably.
“He’s been great for us this season, but that was just one of those things. I thought the boys showed great character. We hadn’t covered ourselves in glory the last time we were at Alloa so to come from behind and win was excellent. The way we’ve been playing, the confidence we have been showing, we just didn’t let it worry us as we knew we were playing well.
“It was similar to Dumbarton the week before, while it was disappointing they’d got back into the game we still had a lot of belief that we could score more goals than them. We don’t want to become a team which says ‘you score four, we’ll score five’, but just now I think the boys are showing a lot of character.”
David Gray saw a header from a Craig cross smack back off the post before the captain himself claimed the equaliser, curling a free-kick beyond Alloa goalkeeper Craig McDowall before Gray notched what proved to be the winner with nodding the ball home from Scott Allan’s back-post cross.
For Craig, it was his first goal since scoring twice against Dundee United at Tannadice at the beginning of January – a moment which the former St Johnstone player admitted brought “a great relief”.
The scorer of nine goals last season, he said: “I base a lot of my game on getting goals. I put pressure on myself to do that, but while it was nice to get it, the most important thing was getting into the next round.
“We were a bit unlucky not to have equalised earlier in the game with David’s first header. But since he’s come to the club I’ve had an understanding with him. He’s as fit as anyone in the league. You know he’s going to get up and down that right flank, and if you are playing on the other side, you know if you leave it up there he’s going to attack the ball and will have a chance to get on the end of it.
“The refreshing thing is that it’s not just one player scoring – the goals have been shared around in our last few games.
“The short corner which led to David’s goal had worked the previous week against Dumbarton. We work on such things in training, so it’s great to see them pay off on a Saturday.
“There’s a great confidence in the squad, a great belief in each other but, to be fair to the manager, he just wants us to go out and express ourselves, to try different things. He gives you the confidence and the licence to do that.”