One-point advantage could be key to Hibs’ survival

SIDE BY SIDE: Scott Robertson tangles with Billy King (SNS)
SIDE BY SIDE: Scott Robertson tangles with Billy King (SNS)
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Amid all the doom and gloom which has descended upon Easter Road, Scott Robertson believes one vital fact has been overlooked – that Hibs’ destiny remains very much under the players’ control.

The midfielder concedes the statistics have piled up against Terry Butcher’s side, six straight defeats, just one Scottish Premiership win in 15 matches to which can be added a Scottish Cup exit at the hands of Raith Rovers, a record which has left the Capital club dicing dangerously with the relegation play-off spot.

Dismal reading whichever way you look at it but, argued Robertson, while the single point which separates Hibs in eighth place from Kilmarnock who currently occupy the dreaded 11th place may not offer too much in the way of comfort, it remains an important advantage with only three matches remaining.

As such, the arithmetic is simple: if Hibs win all three of those games – against Partick Thistle, Ross County and Killie – their top-flight status will be secure. Simple. But when you then factor in that Hibs’ form since beating Hearts on January 2 is the poorest of any side in the bottom six, such reasoning looks totally misplaced.

Nevertheless, nine points from three games when the previous 15 fixtures have offered just seven remains the objective although Hibs won’t be alone in seeking maximum points as Robertson quickly acknowledged.

The 29-year-old said: “Nine is the target, but that’s what every other team is going to be saying because it’s so tight. With just two points separating five clubs, everyone will say the same thing and be aiming to go into every game trying to win it.

“However, it remains in our own hands, as things stand we don’t have to rely on results from elsewhere, only what happens in our games.”

Robertson has watched Hibs’ trials and tribulations with a growing sense of helplessness, ruled out of action for almost three months after sustaining medial ligament damage as he played for the club’s Under-20 side in, ironically, a bid to top up his match fitness following a short lay-off.

But having returned to face Hearts in his first match since mid-January, the former Dundee, Dundee United and Blackpool star is determined to play his part in one final push for safety and, like boss Butcher, he is heartened by Hibs’ performance in the latest derby if bitterly disappointed to have ended up on the losing side once again.

He said: “It’s been massively frustrating especially when things haven’t been going well and you are unable to help. It’s hard to sit there watching when the boys are struggling and picking up so few points.

“So it was great to be back involved, having that excitement of driving to a game again and with the extra edge of it being a derby although, ultimately, it was disappointing to lose a game we felt we deserved to take at least something from.

“I’d spoken to the manager about the under-20s match I was supposed to be involved in last Tuesday, but he said he wanted to keep me out of it to avoid the risk of being injured after what had happened previously. I thought then I’d be in the squad, but as the game approached I realised I would be starting, which was exciting.

“Unfortunately it didn’t work out the way we wanted. The talk before the game was of winning, of how we were going to make our fans happy because we knew there’s not going to be another derby for at least a year. That was the motivation and we seriously believed we were going to win so we feel we’ve let everyone down.”

Having said that, Robertson insisted the final scoreline didn’t offer a true reflection of how the match had unfolded, Hibs undone by two avoidable goals as Callum Paterson twice got above Jordon Forster in the space of just four minutes to nod home a Billy King corner and then a free-kick from Kevin McHattie.

Although Forster atoned somewhat by throwing Hibs a lifeline as he himself powered a second-half header beyond Hearts goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald, it proved too little to salvage anything for Butcher’s side other than a firm belief that similar performances in the course of the next 11 days will be better rewarded.

Robertson said: “We honestly felt Hearts got the first goal against the run of play. We were dominating, we were in their half flashing crosses across the box. Jason Cummings had a good header and shot, we were causing their goalkeeper more problems than Ben Williams was having. And then, out of nowhere, we lose a goal from a set piece.

“We rarely do that and yet we did so twice in the space of only a few minutes which makes it an uphill struggle.”

Robertson had a golden opportunity to mark his return with a goal as Sam Stanton played him in only for the ball to get caught under his feet although the player himself refused to make excuses saying: “It was poor from me. I’d like to think if I’d had a bit more match practice I’d have had a better touch and got my shot away.

“But there’s no excuses, it was a terrible touch and what makes it worse, it came right before their first goal. If I’d taken a decent touch and got a shot in it might have been us getting the first goal and that would have changed everything.”

While admitting Hibs should have defended better for both of Paterson’s goals, Robertson revealed he couldn’t help but feel the fates were conspiring against Hibs at the moment, a belief which engulfs most teams when embroiled at the wrong end of the table.

Recalling the Forster ‘equaliser’ which was disallowed in the previous derby, Robertson again felt Hibs had been on the wrong end of a decision when referee Bobby Madden penalised Ryan McGivern for the free-kick which lead to that all important second goal. “Ryan had been knocked to the ground and was just getting to his feet when the guy is all over his back and I thought if anything it’s a foul for us.

“It was a small decision, but it turned into a big decision. Yes, we should have defended the cross better but if we were enjoying a bit more success you feel things would go our way, shots from Alex Harris and Kevin Thomson, for example, which were deflected into the side-netting when on another day they’d have gone into the net.

“We ended up the losers overall at the weekend the way the other results went, but we are still a point above the play-off place and the encouraging thing for me was we did create chances. Jason was unlucky on a couple of occasions, while I thought it was good to see Boozy [Harris] back in form, looking really sharp; he’s the sort of player who can give you that spark.

“I feel that if we can take the way we played into the last three matches – starting with Partick on Saturday – we can take points from these games.”