Maybury and Co ready for last chance saloon

Alan Maybury battles with Ross County's Melvin De Leeuw. Pic: DAVID LAMB

Alan Maybury battles with Ross County's Melvin De Leeuw. Pic: DAVID LAMB

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He has enjoyed a career spanning 18 years, donned the colours of nine different clubs, clocking up more than 400 first-team appearances, tasted Champions League, UEFA Cup and international football and played on both sides of the Border.

But this weekend, Alan Maybury will undergo an entirely new experience as Hibs go head-to-head with Kilmarnock in a must-win clash to avoid being dragged into the dreaded relegation play-off place.

The Easter Road outfit have been flirting with that danger for weeks as they have slowly but surely been sucked into a dogfight which could threaten their Premiership status. But now the situation is critical after Terry Butcher’s side passed up the chance to seize top-flight security, beaten by Ross County skipper Richard Brittain’s penalty on Tuesday night. His spot-kick assured the Staggies of their place at Scottish football’s top table for another season, but condemned veteran defender Maybury, his team-mates and thousands of their fans to a nerve-shredding clash with Killie at lunchtime on Saturday.

It is one last bite at the cherry for Butcher’s players who, as the 35-year-old admitted, have failed to grasp numerous opportunities to haul themselves clear of trouble but, as he pointed out, Hibs’ fate remains very much in their hands, with Hibs needing to beat Kilmarnock to avoid the relegation play-off.

Insisting the bitter disappointment of Dingwall has to be immediately forgotten, the former Republic of Ireland player said: “It’s a real test of character and we need to find it somewhere inside ourselves.

“The boys are hurting. It was a long trip back down the road, but we have to clear our heads, take all the positives. I’m sick of the negatives around the club. It’s about being positive, sticking the chest out. We need strong characters.

“We are disappointed because we have blown another chance to get ourselves out of this mess. It’s gone down to the last game, but we still have another chance, which is unbelievable. We have had endless chances, but we are still in the mix. There’s no pointing fingers of blame or anything like that. It’s all about clearing our heads, dusting ourselves down and coming together. It’s make or break.”

Like Butcher, Maybury felt there was nothing between Hibs and Ross County, although the game followed an all too depressingly familiar path as a spirited start, such as they had made in their previous two matches, went unrewarded before they once again found themselves trailing.

With Danny Handling operating just behind lone striker Jason Cummings, and Alex Harris and Liam Craig giving Hibs width, the early signs were promising as nerves appeared to engulf County. However, as the match wore on the inevitable happened, Scott Robertson’s clumsy challenge on Jordan Slew leading referee John Beaton to point to the spot with Brittain doing the rest.

Once again, Butcher’s players were left chasing the game, the eighth time in succession they had fallen behind. As has so often proved the case for the league’s lowest scoring side – just 31 in 37 matches – it was too much for them to retrieve. Maybury said: “I thought we started well. We got on top of them, were winning everything in midfield and driving forward, but they came back into it and, although they hit the post from a set-piece, I didn’t think we were under any real threat.

“We were getting into the area, getting shots off without maybe troubling the goalkeeper enough. The second half was more even, but their goal came out of nothing. However, momentum changes as do attitudes and the mentality.”

While he questioned whether it was a penalty, Maybury admitted there was nothing he or his team-mates could do about Beaton’s decision, which again left Hibs in that demoralising situation of chasing the game knowing that the more they did so, it increased the chances of losing another as County hit on the break. He said: “They possibly had the clearer chances over the piece, but that was as a result of us trying to get forward, looking for that equaliser. We got a couple of good balls into the box and got heads on the end of them and on another night one or two might have gone in. But that’s nothing new. We’ve been saying that all season.

“There was nothing in the game. We started well, conceded out of nothing and then we are chasing – it’s been the same all year. That’s three games in a row now we’ve started well, only to go behind. Having to chase the game all the time is draining. When you are in a position of comfort, in the lead, it’s a lot easier.

“I’ve never been in this position before. There was a spell at Leicester when we couldn’t get on a run of games. We’d win one, lose one, draw one, never gaining momentum and around Christmas we dropped into the bottom three.

“But in the second half of the season, we were the form team. It never came down to the wire as it has done now.”

Hibs produced arguably their best performance of the season in beating Kilmarnock 3-0 the last time the Ayrshire side visited Easter Road and, if he and his team-mates feel a tad jittery, Maybury insisted it shouldn’t be forgotten that Allan Johnston’s players will be feeling exactly the same – a scenario in which, he claimed, the home support can play a huge part.

He said: “The fans have been great. When we have given them something to shout about they have really responded and we need them on our side on Saturday. But it works both ways … we give them something to cheer about and they give us something back and it becomes a positive cycle. So we have to be positive, drive forward and get them right behind us from the start.”