I SENSED prior to Saturday’s victory over Kilmarnock that Kenny Shiels was trying to unnerve some of the Hibs players with his comments regarding how he felt we’d be able to handle the pressure of being at the top end of the division.
Well, I think after the weekend’s clash at Easter Road between the two sides, it would be fair to say we are doing quite nicely, thank you very much.
As the weeks progress, the points difference can increase and I may be wrong in my views, but I don’t believe there will be many teams in this league who will win four or five matches in succession to pull themselves away from the danger area. Only time will tell if my thoughts are vindicated.
I’ve always been of the opinion that when opposing managers start to question other sides in the division, perhaps all is not well within their own camp and shows a nervousness on their behalf. Mind games can have a pivotal role in football, but ultimately it comes down to the mental toughness of the squad to oversee any outside influences.
We came under the cosh towards the end of Saturday’s match, but there is a resilience in the squad at the moment. Last season we may have surrendered our lead in the closing stages and come away with just a point. We can now look forward to another home fixture this weekend against Inverness, but we can’t afford to take anything for granted. Terry Butcher always has his players well organised and I’m sure Saturday’s game will prove to be no different.
Winning our home fixtures is imperative. It is therefore pleasing that we have managed to record two home victories in the league this season, and in the process, already equalled last season’s poor statistic. It is important we make Easter Road a difficult venue for opposing teams to come and take anything from the game. It is, of course, great to pick up points on the road, but it is our home form that will ultimately define the course of our season.
The signs from the opening six fixtures have shown a real determination in the players’ attitudes, a trait that was posted missing all too often last year. However, adapting to different styles of play when coming up against the opposition is also a factor I believe can bring success.
The manager has indicated he is still looking to strengthen the squad, which shows he aims to keep the players who are playing at the present on their toes. One player who is doing everything he can to ensure he stays in the side is Leigh Griffiths. He has proved to be a major asset to the club with his strike ratio and has already found the net on five occasions. I was therefore delighted to hear Leigh had been voted SPL Player of the Month for August, as it is an award he thoroughly deserves. There is no doubt he is in sparkling form at the moment and you can see the confidence in his play.
Football doesn’t change. You can have a Paolo Maldini in the heart of defence, a tricky wide man in Ryan Giggs all playing at the top of their games, but without a natural finisher at the end of it, chances will be missed. I recall many a confrontation in the changing room after a victory that has started over the special attention given to the goalscorer, irrespective of the player’s level of performance during the match.
No-one remembers those passes that went astray, or the two sitters that were missed at the end of the first half. It’s all about putting the ball in the back of the net. Having had the pleasure of playing alongside such players, I can firmly say I’d rather have them playing with me than finding myself up against them. Naming these players would only inflate their egos so I will keep their identities under wraps. Rarely do you hear about defenders making last-ditch tackles or a perfectly-timed run by a central midfielder. Goals are what make headlines and win football matches.