Ryan McGivern today insisted there was no cause for panic at Easter Road despite a miserable start to the season in which Pat Fenlon’s side have lost four matches, conceded 11 goals and scored none.
Although pressure is mounting on the Hibs boss in the wake of a disastrous Europa League encounter with Swedish outfit Malmo in which the Capital club lost their second qualifying round tie by a record 9-0 aggregate, Northern Ireland defender McGivern claimed he and his team-mates could easily be sitting on six points following their opening SPFL matches with Motherwell and Hearts. The cruel reality, though, is that they have no points at all, their 1-0 loss to Motherwell followed by a morale-sapping defeat by financially-stricken Hearts, who are forced to field a team of youngsters as they seek to overcome a 15-point deduction and a signing ban imposed for plunging into administration.
In contrast, Fenlon’s side was packed with experienced players, six of whom were recruited over the summer as the Irishman continues to rebuild his squad during his fourth transfer window. On paper Hibs looked far stronger than their near neighbours and looked very much on the ascendancy, only to be left stunned as Callum Paterson rose to meet Dylan McGowan’s inch-prefect cross to flash a header beyond the helpless Ben Williams.
For the second week in succession, one goal was enough to sink the men in green and white, Motherwell substitute Henri Anier having floored them in a match from which, just like Sunday, they looked certain to emerge with at least a point.
On each occasion, though, they were left wondering what might have been. Motherwell goalkeeper Lee Hollis pulled off a terrific save to deny Scott Robertson before Anier struck, while at Tynecastle Tom Taiwo got on the end of Liam Craig’s inviting cross, but was unable to turn the ball into the net – that miss coming just five minutes before Paterson sent the Jambo fans wild.
“Both matches could easily have ended 1-0 in our favour,” claimed McGivern, “But that’s football. The margin between winning and losing can be inches. It’s an old saying, but it’s true. We’ve had chances, but just not been quite clinical enough, but at the same time we have to make sure we are secure at the back, that we are defending properly.”
Momentary lapses have proved fatal to Hibs on numerous occasions in recent seasons and the fact the goals lost to both Motherwell – a simple ball over the top for Anier – and Hearts were avoidable has only added to the sense of frustration within Fenlon’s camp.
McGivern said: “Hearts had one real chance in the entire game, but, to be fair to them, they have taken it. Ben must have had one of the quietest games, so it was really deflating to lose a goal in that manner on such an occasion.
“It was a ball which shouldn’t have come into our box in the first place. We had enough bodies out there, I was there myself but the ball took a little bit of a ricochet off the Hearts boy [David Smith] and fell nicely for McGowan to hit it first time, which he did.
“To be honest I don’t know how we didn’t come away with the three points, never mind one. People look at the result, not what has happened in the game, and that’s how it is. It doesn’t matter how much of the ball you have had, you don’t win games on possession or chances. It’s goals and we never managed to get one.”
On a weekend when Leigh Griffiths, scorer of 28 goals for Hibs last season, netted twice for Wolves, HIbs’ new-look strike-force of James Collins and Rowan Vine hardly managed a shot on target although, to be fair to the pair, they didn’t get the sort of service upon which forwards thrive. But McGivern insisted that won’t be the case for much longer. He said: “Leigh was fantastic for us, but I think it will only be a matter of time before the strikers we’ve brought to the club kick in and get a bagful of goals between them.”
While Griffiths’ name wasn’t far from the lips of Hibs fans, so, too, was that of Fenlon, the Irishman finding his own future increasingly debated. However, like Kevin Thomson, McGivern insisted he and his team-mates have to shoulder at least some of the responsibility for a poor run of results. He said: “As players we concentrate on doing our jobs on the pitch. The manager and Jimmy Nicholl gave us thorough preparation this week and last. They couldn’t have done much more and it is up to players once we cross that line to get the job done. Unfortunately it hasn’t panned out for us.”
While Fenlon and his players set to work preparing for the visit of Dundee United on Saturday, McGivern departed on international duty with Northern Ireland as they ready themselves for their rescheduled World Cup qualifying match against Russia in Belfast’s Windsor Park tomorrow night, the original game having been postponed in March due to snow and icy playing conditions.
But, the former Manchester City star admitted, it’s a far from ideal situation coming at a time when, having missed the double-header against Malmo and the visit of Motherwell through injury, he is keen to focus on re-establishing himself in Fenlon’s plans, particularly in the wake of that derby defeat.
An unused substitute against the Fir Park outfit, McGivern stepped off the bench to replace Fraser Mullen, one of four Hibs players to be booked by referee Craig Thomson along with four more from Hearts, at half-time at Tynecastle, his match fitness having been helped by 90 minutes as the Easter Road club’s Under-20 side opened their season with a 4-2 win over Ross County.
That entailed a tiring round trip to Clachnacuddin’s Grant Street Park in Inverness, a far cry from the white-hot atmosphere of an Edinburgh derby but, insisted McGivern, all part and parcel of recovering from injury.
He said: “It’s been very frustrating, The aim is to get through pre-season without any injuries but I picked up a couple of niggles. But I got 90 minutes under my belt for the Under-20s and now another 45. It was great to be called up by Northern Ireland again.
“I was named in the squad before I’d even kicked a ball in anger this season but, to be honest, ideally I’d want to be with the club getting in a good week’s training and preparing for Dundee United this weekend.”