PAUL CAIRNEY today admitted his own season has followed that of Hibs, with a bright start fading into a run of indifferent form.
While the Easter Road side have tumbled down the SPL table, the midfielder has found his once seemingly-assured place in the team under threat.
A surprise signing from First Division Partick Thistle last summer, Cairney quickly won over the Easter Road supporters, proving to be one of Hibs’ most consistent performers as they unexpectedly left most of their rivals trailing in their slipstream with a strong start to the season which even saw them enjoy a momentary spell at the top of the league.
However, in recent weeks Hibs’ star has been very much on the wane, Monday night’s defeat by St Johnstone making it just one win in ten matches for Pat Fenlon’s side – a mere seven points from a possible 30 seeing them slip from their lofty perch to fifth, with a place in the top six now very much under threat.
Just as the team’s collective form has dipped, so, too, has Cairney’s, the 25-year-old having found himself in and out of the side after missing the first match following the winter break – the home draw with Dundee – through suspension.
Having been left out altogether as Hibs went down to Ross County in Dingwall a couple of weeks ago before starting from the bench against St Johnstone, Cairney admits he can have few complaints at having become slightly marginalised.
Asked if it was a mystery to him as to why he found himself in such a position having, arguably, been one of Hibs’ best players in those halcyon days of a few months ago when all the talk was of a possible runners-up spot behind champions-elect Celtic, he simply replied: “No, because I know I have not been playing well recently.
“The gaffer was right to leave me out. I thought I was poor in the last game I played. I’ve hit a bit of bad form. That’s football.”
And Cairney insisted the only cure for both his ills and those of the team in general was no more than hard work and a concentration on ensuring the basics were adhered to.
He is desperate to return to the starting line-up for this Saturday’s visit to Paisley to face Scottish Communities League Cup finalists St Mirren, a side who are second bottom of the table but now just five points behind Hibs with a game in hand.
However, the former Queen’s Park player insisted he didn’t see the defeat by St Johnstone – one which most observers agreed could have been more emphatic than the final 3-1 scoreline – as strengthening his hand. He said: “I wouldn’t say that. We had players on the bench like Jorge Claros and Tom Taiwo, and people such as David Wotherspoon and Shefki Kuqi sitting upstairs so we have a good squad.
“We need to keep working hard, doing the right things and hopefully we’ll bounce back on Saturday.”
If he can finger why he’s fallen out of favour to some degree, Cairney admitted what did mystify him was the reasons behind Hibs’ current abysmal run, one which has seen them win just twice in 11 matches, notable victories though they were against Celtic in the SPL and then over Aberdeen in the William Hill Scottish Cup.
He said: “We’re in a bit of a rut at the moment, we’re going through a wee bad spell. Although we’re still fifth in the league we need to pick up.
“We need to get a run of games without being beaten which will push us up. It’s all really tight. St Mirren are sitting second bottom but only five points off us so I am sure if we can get a few wins we’ll be moving up rather than down.
“We’ve made it hard for ourselves, we’ve allowed it all to become very tight by not picking up the points we should have recently.
“We did well against Celtic, but have ended up being beaten by teams at the other end. You cannot let that happen, you have to treat every game as a cup final if you are to win.”
Cairney agreed with Fenlon’s assessment of the latest setback, that St Johnstone had shown more hunger, desire and determination than those in green and white, his own observation being that Steve Lomas’ side had been “more up for it” than Hibs, who, having lost the first goal conceded a second minutes later.
Rowan Vine did the damage on both occasions and Hibs were lucky not to find themselves three down before the interval, saved only by goalkeeper Ben Williams’ fifth stop from the penalty spot as he threw himself full length to push away Steven MacLean’s effort from 12 yards.
Williams’ heroics, however, were in vain, his team-mates failing to grasp that lifeline as former Hibs midfielder Patrick Cregg made it three for Saints just after the break.
Rubbing salt into the wound was the fact Cregg’s last strike had come 34 months earlier, when he scored his only goal for Hibs in a 4-2 defeat by Dundee United in March 2010. It was, nevertheless, enough to leave Leigh Griffiths’ strike eight minutes from time, as nothing more than a consolation for Fenlon’s players.
Revealing Fenlon had uttered “some harsh words” in the home dressing-room following the Saints’ debacle, Cairney said: “The boys have to kick on, we can’t let our heads go down.
“When Ben saved the penalty I think we felt we might have a wee chance of getting something from the game, but while he has been absolutely brilliant all season, we can’t go relying on him all the time.”
Griffiths’ goal was his 16th in the SPL but Cairney acknowledged others, including himself, need to take the weight off his shoulders. Cairney, who can count the winner against St Johnstone in Perth earlier in the season as one of his two goals this season, admitted: “We need to score more goals.
“I’ve not been happy with my own goals tally this year but I need to up my game and hopefully they will come in the remaining matches of the season.”