Pat McGinlay today warned Hibs they have to rediscover a winning habit immediately or face the danger of falling out of the Championship promotion race.
Alan Stubbs’ side have lost their last three league matches and now sit nine points behind Capital rivals and league leaders Hearts, a gap which the former midfielder insists is far from being insurmountable but one which cannot be allowed to widen even further.
And while the head coach is adamant results, with the notable exception of the defeat by Alloa last time out, haven’t reflected his side’s performances, McGinlay admitted he’d happily settle for the scrappiest of goals against Cowdenbeath on Saturday if it meant three badly needed points.
However, McGinlay, who scored the only goal of the game the last time the Blue Brazil visited Easter Road 21 years ago, believes Jimmy Nicholl’s players will make life as difficult as possible, agreeing with Stubbs’ assertion that Hibs, along with Hearts and Rangers, are a scalp every other Championship side is determined to take. Recalling that Scotish Cup replay of 1993, McGinlay said: “We’d drawn the first game 0-0 at Central Park and were perhaps lucky Cowdenbeath didn’t get a late penalty. Everyone probably expected us to win quite easily at home in the second match but we squeezed through with my goal.
“Hibs will be expected to win on Saturday but I’d bet at this moment they’d happily take another 1-0 win and the three points. It’s been a poor start results-wise for Hibs but the situation they are in is a bit like last season. I remember [former striker] James Collins saying the club wouldn’t get pulled into the relegation battle but you can’t just say it won’t happen, you have to make sure it doesn’t.
“Unfortunately, we all know that’s exactly what happened. Now they can’t simply keep say they’ll get a win next week, keep saying that and yet keep finding yourself slipping further behind.
“That’s something Hibs can’t afford, it’s going to be a real battle to get up this season and they have to get themselves right back in the mix as quickly as possible and stay there.
“It isn’t easy against the so-called smaller clubs. Easter Road is a magnificent stadium these days and I’m sure opposition players arriving there this season will get a lift simply from the surroundings and the size of the crowd.
“It will probably be a bit like other clubs going to Celtic Park and Ibrox, players go out there knowing that if they play well then they’ll increase their chances of getting a big move.
“I’d imagine Cowdenbeath will try to frustrate Hibs, hope to get the crowd on their backs and then hit them on the break. What Hibs need to do is get right in among them from the first whistle, make their presence felt and get the fans going.
“Everyone has to put a shift in. The Hibs teams I played in were decent sides but what we had were players who’d roll up the sleeves and work hard for each other. There were guys like Brian Hamilton, to me an unsung hero. He ran about like a maniac, ran everywhere, tackled everything, a brilliant guy to have on your side. Then at the back Gordon Hunter would tackle a brick wall if need be. Even if we weren’t playing well we worked our socks off and I think the supporters could see that.”
McGinlay, who played more than 300 games in two spells at Hibs separated by a year with Celtic, doesn’t know Stubbs personally but, having played for the Glasgow club he reckons he knows the mentality the former Bolton and Everton defender will bring to Easter Road.
He said: “The expectation level playing for Celtic is immense, you are expected to win every game and even a draw isn’t good enough no matter who you are playing. I think some players coming to Hibs find the expectation level perhaps greater than the club they’ve been at.
“Hibs are a massive club but unfortunately things haven’t gone well for whatever reason for two or three seasons now. I honestly never thought I’d see the day when Hibs would be playing against Cowdenbeath in the league – unless they’d won promotion. But it’s shocking to find Hibs, Hearts and Rangers out of the Premiership, I don’t think anyone would have ever predicted that happening.
“For Hearts and Rangers it’s the result of financial problems but as far as Hibs are concerned it was all down to a disastrous second half to the season. To be honest, when I saw Terry Butcher, the former captain of Rangers and England who’d been there and done it at the very top of football, take over as manager I thought he’d be the man to turn the club round.
“I just can’t work out what went wrong, it was just frightening the way things turned out with no-one able to stop it. Even when they’d beaten Hamilton in the first leg of the play-off and put themselves well on the way to staying up – maybe the players thought that was them, that they had done it.
“I don’t know Alan Stubbs as a person, only as a player and, where he has come from, I’m certain he’ll be determined to instil that winning mentality into his players. You have to be able to go out on the pitch not hoping you are going to win but believing you will. There’s a lot of young boys at Easter Road at the moment and it’s a mindset they need to have, to be strong and brave on the ball, to have that belief in their ability.
“The crowd, too, can play a part. I know it’s difficult when results aren’t going your way or performances aren’t great but the fans will soon come flocking back if the team start putting together a winning run.”