No excuses for Hibs amid relegation scrap

Hibs manager Terry Butcher, left, and assistant Maurice Malpas. Pic: SNS

Hibs manager Terry Butcher, left, and assistant Maurice Malpas. Pic: SNS

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MAURICE MALPAS reckons Hibs could have plenty of sob stories to tell as their season has degenerated into a scrap to avoid a relegation play-off.

But the Easter Road assistant boss doesn’t want to hear any of them, adamant that all attention has to be given to grabbing the points to secure Scottish Premiership safety, starting with today’s game against St Mirren in Paisley, the first of five post-split fixtures which will determine the club’s fate.

While there have been a number of instances where Hibs feel they’ve been hard done by, the most recent incident being the Jordon Forster “goal” which was disallowed in the dying minutes of the latest Edinburgh derby, thereby probably robbing them of a precious point, Malpas insisted: “That’s immaterial now. I think every club could sit here and say ‘we could have had this game because of that, we should have got a penalty there,’ but is it any good? It’s in the past.”

Malpas knows many are tipping Hibs to find themselves second bottom and facing a play-off against a Championship side given a woeful record of just one win in their last 13 league matches, but he’s convinced the squad have what it takes to steer clear of trouble in the next few weeks.

Asked if he was worried the players might start to believe they could be dragged into such a fight, Malpas retorted: “We’ve got to make sure they don’t. We’ve got to make sure they play how they can play. We’ve got to prepare them for each game, get them right mentally to go out and work their tails off to get the three points.

“For 90 minutes you’ve got to do your damnedest to make sure you’re better than the opposition. We’ve shot ourselves in the foot a few times lately, but that’s in the past – it’s what we do at St Mirren and in the matches that follow.”

Malpas conceded that most teams are fairly evenly matched and asked what might make the difference in any given game, the former Scotland defender said: “You could say somebody might get the break of the ball. It’s somebody having the ability to score a goal or stop a pass through.

“But the biggest thing is you’ve got to handle the game in terms of meeting the challenge head on, playing the best you can play and having a team performance to win the game.

“That doesn’t mean to say we need to be pretty. We have to work hard, stop the opposition playing and then create something. We haven’t created a lot of goals, a lot of chances, at times during games but we’ve been working hard enough.”

Malpas revealed he and Butcher will sit down following today’s game and, taking into account results elsewhere, re-evaluate what’s needed, but he insisted he already knows the answer. “We’ll go and play against Hearts next week and we’ll try to win that game,” he said. “It’s the same each week until somebody comes and tells you that the season’s over and you have X number of points. We’ll have enough points to stay up, I’m sure of that.”

Three of Hibs’ final five matches are at Easter Road, but with a wretched record in Leith over the past couple of years, having extra home games could be seen as a hindrance to Terry Butcher’s players.

Malpas, doesn’t see playing in front of a big home support as a major issue. The Hibs No 2 said: “I know where I’d rather play – it’s at Easter Road in front of 12,000 fans driving us on. One or two will criticise at the drop of a hat, but players have to handle that nowadays.

“Some fans to go games to have a pop, but they are in a minority. Our fans have been different class home and away. But fans don’t win points, It’s the players who win points but fans can drive the players on.

“Away from home the fans have been excellent so they have a part to play in cheering us on and we’ve got to give them something to cheer about. Fans like to see the ball being lashed at the goals so we’ve got to make sure we have attempts at goal and get them out of their seats.”

Malpas insists his players have to be able to cope with the pressure that will come from being in a battle to avoid the play-offs. He said: “The closer you get to the end of the season the games become more important and nerves do play a part.

“But that’s something you have to handle as a team, and as individuals. I would hate to think that any of our players don’t feel nerves before games, but you don’t want that to affect their performance. I think if you spoke to the other clubs they’d rather be in our position because of the number of points we’ve got – but it’s important we get more points and get everything sorted out.”