Michael Nelson has urged his Hibs team-mates to test the nerve of top-six rivals St Johnstone by clocking up a second win of the season at McDiarmid Park today.
The Easter Road side go into the game knowing defeat will end their hopes of finishing in the upper half of the Scottish Premiership table for the first time in four seasons with Saints already four points ahead and having a game in hand.
But Tommy Wright’s team are the only top-six outfit Hibs have beaten this season thanks to the goals from Paul Heffernan and James Collins which gave them a 2-1 win on their last visit to Perth.
And while accepting matters will still remain out of Hibs’ hands even if they do take all three points today, Nelson believes victory could help sow the seeds of doubt in the minds of the Saints players.
The Hibs defender said: “They lost last week as well [to Ross County] and if we can win it will close the gap and put a little bit more pressure on them. It’s still in their hands and after today we can’t have any influence on the rest of their games so we have to try and win and see if they can cope with the pressure.
“We have to get as close as we can to them and we will keep fighting.”
Nelson admitted, though, that getting the first goal could prove vital to Hibs’ hopes, with Terry Butcher’s side having been guilty of handing the opposition the initiative on too many occasions recently despite having started a number of matches on the front foot, the latest example being the 3-1 defeat by Partick Thistle.
He said: “On Saturday we controlled a large part of the first half and could have gone in a goal up. The worst it should have been was 0-0, so to lose a goal so late in the first half was very frustrating. You look at the basics, losing from a set piece and as a defender that’s not nice especially as we know we are a real threat from those situations at the other end.
“It’s about doing the basics right, but the basics only get you so far. If you want to win games, you need that little bit of extra quality in the final third to drive it home. For all the pressure we had in the first half, and we got into some positions, we didn’t capitalise on it.
“Then they do what we had been doing – get down the side, cut it back – and they get a goal from it. We got into similar positions three times as much as they did and didn’t manage to put the ball in.
“It happened against Motherwell. That was as good as we’ve started all season. We had a shot or a corner within 45 seconds but 11 minutes in we were a goal down.
“You have to punish teams when you are on top. You have to turn your territorial advantage into goals and not show any mercy. When the other team has a spell, you need to weather the storm.
“Recently we’ve always been fighting back. Against Motherwell we really did that well and it was disappointing we didn’t hang on for the win. But it’s a long time since we went a goal up and hammered it home.”
In the wake of the defeat at Firhill Butcher threatened to wield the axe and draft in a raft of youngsters for today’s match, leading Nelson to admit that those who’d played against Partick had laid themselves open to losing their places.
He said: “It doesn’t matter if we have complaints or not. If he wants to put the kids in, he’ll do it. We won’t change his mind.
“You can’t go in shouting and bawling you deserve to be in the team when you’ve just been beaten, regardless if you’ve won the previous six before that. You are only as good as your last game.
“You can go and sit in the manager’s office for two hours after he has named the team, but I’ve never seen a dropped player walk out of a manager’s office having been put back into the team. There’s no point shouting and bawling, it’ll only put you further away from getting back in the team.
“It’s up to the manager to pick the team. Some players like to go in and put their point across and some will put their heads down and get on with it. It’s out of our hands and the starting 11 have put themselves in that position by losing the game. Whether you are 18 or 34, it makes no difference.
“The only way to stay in the team is to play well and win games. Sometimes that even isn’t enough.”