Rowan Vine may have helped St Johnstone finish third in the SPL last season and qualify for the Europa League, but he doesn’t expect too many thanks when he returns to McDiarmid Park for the first time tomorrow.
The 30-year-old is well aware he may have ruffled a few feathers at Saints after claiming on his arrival at Hibs that he’d been shabbily dealt with by the Perth club as he firmly believed he’d done enough to earn a new deal. However, Tommy Wright, the Perth side’s new manager, was equally adamant he’d been told the club simply couldn’t afford to keep him.
Vine knows the spat is likely to provoke a backlash from the home support but, in a much-travelled career – he has played for Portsmouth, Luton Town, Birmingham City and Queens Park Rangers, plus a clutch of other clubs on loan – he has become accustomed to returning to old stomping grounds and, as a result, is prepared for whatever welcome awaits him.
He said: “Probably after a few comments when I signed for Hibs there will be a bit of a backlash. I don’t think I’ll be the most favourite person there but I am not overly bothered. I did well there, we finished third in the league which, when you look back, is something to cherish but I was honest in my assessment of what happened.
“I’ve done this sort of thing a number of times in my career and it adds a little bit of spice when you know people there, whether it be players or staff. It can be difficult, sometimes you enjoy those games, sometimes you don’t. But I don’t see it being a problem, in fact I’m looking forward to it.”
By his own admission, Vine wasn’t a prolific striker during his year at Saints, with just seven goals to his name. However, he can boast of never having found himself on the losing side when he did score, the highlights including a winner against Celtic, a last-minute winner against Kilmarnock, and a double at Easter Road in a 3-1 win.
To that end, he knows Hibs fans will be looking for a little bit of “payback” tomorrow as they become increasingly anxious to see both Vine and £200,000 signing James Collins hit the goal trail. The pair have failed to claim even one goal between them so far, with former Kilmarnock striker Paul Heffernan and French kid Abdellah Zoubir having been drafted in to add more firepower.
Collins, the 22-year-old who scored 18 times for Swindon Town last season, has already admitted his lack of goals has been preying on his mind.
However, as a more experienced player, Vine has reassured his younger team-mate his drought will soon be over. He said: “To be honest, it doesn’t really play on my mind as I’ve never really been prolific. I’ve always been the player off the striker, sometimes out wide so I’ve never really put that pressure on myself. I don’t judge myself on goals. I want to score goals but I’m happy with assists and knowing I have contributed to the team’s performance.
“James and I are good friends, we have settled in well together. He’s young, but he’s scored goals since he came on the scene. We shouldn’t be putting any extra pressure on him. He’s trying as hard as he can. I’ve said that to him but sometimes the ball just doesn’t drop for you, sometimes it does. I accept it plays on people’s minds, of course it does. When people who are used to scoring goals nearly every week hit a dry spell, it’s going to be on their mind more than others.
“But we do need to start scoring goals and winning matches. After scoring twice myself against Hibs last season I’m sure the fans will be looking for me to make amends somewhat. It was the perfect victory last season. To go away and score three goals, especially at somewhere like Easter Road, is a fair achievement for any team.”
Vine accepts that a lack of goals leaves Hibs vulnerable to a mistake or a piece of magic from an opposition player – as highlighted by the fact they have conceded only four in their five matches so far and have still conspired to drop ten points.
However, he is adamant his side are beginning to build a solid foundation as they head up the A9 aiming to make it four games unbeaten. He said: “We went a goal behind to Dundee United but dug in and got a point; we dominated against Kilmarnock but they scored against the run of play – which could also be said of Hearts – but came back to win and last time out against Ross County, we got our first clean sheet of the season.
“We know we have good players and we know there will be a time when things are dropping for us as well, it’s just the in-between bits. We have not scored the first goal in a game, for instance.
“The more often that happens the more restless people get. We just have to keep plugging away, go to St Johnstone and aim to turn in a performance like the one at Kilmarnock and hopefully that will earn us the three points. The last three games have produced three positives, perhaps not the best three things in the world but, I think, there are signs things are coming together. We now need another positive result. Everyone knows that a few games unbeaten in this league can take you miles. Making it four unbeaten would be another step forward but we need to believe in ourselves as a team and as individuals.”
While Vine believes Hibs’ mini-unbeaten run has been largely ignored, so, too, he feels the fact most teams are still seeking the level of consistency every manager desires. He said: “Inverness Caley and Celtic apart, most teams have been a bit up and down. Dundee United, for instance, started poorly and then scored four against St Johnstone who hadn’t conceded a goal in the league up to that point.
“Saints then drew 0-0 away to Aberdeen which is decent enough, but that’s two games in a row they haven’t scored in, so they will be looking to go again. We haven’t been beaten off the park by anyone, but hopefully it turns out that we’ve started on a bit of a downer and are now hitting an upward curve.”
SQUAD NEWS: Kevin Thomson returns after a two-match ban but Pat Fenlon has been hit by fresh injuries to Ryan McGivern (knee) and Danny Handling (ankle), ruling the pair out of tomorrow’s match which, the Hibs boss says, comes too soon for James McPake and Tim Clancy although both have hit the comeback trail following lengthy absences. Alex Harris and Paul Cairney remain sidelined with ankle injuries.