Easter Road kid Sam Stanton believes the yawning gap between Hibs and Championship leaders Hearts can be narrowed, while admitting to being frustrated at the way in which it has been allowed to widen to 16 points in recent weeks.
Four successive draws at home have cost Alan Stubbs’ side dearly, Stanton admitting the eight points which, have in effect, been dropped, would have put an entirely different complexion on the table, turning up the heat not only on second-placed Rangers but the Jambos.
Hibs will again have the chance to close in on one or both of those teams this weekend given Ally McCoist’s side are at Tynecastle tasked with trimming the nine-point lead Hearts hold over them – but only if they themselves can steal a win away to Dumbarton.
The Sons have been one of those sides to have frustrated Hibs in recent weeks, escaping from Edinburgh with a point after Dominique Malonga’s “penalty” was controversially ruled as having not crossed the line, while it took a last-gasp goal from Stanton himself to complete a thrilling comeback to knock Ian Murray’s side out of the League Cup earlier in the season.
For Stanton, though, it was just another example of how just one goal could easily have swung things in Hibs favour, Stubbs’ players having managed just 18 in their 13 league matches so far while both Hearts and Rangers have scored almost twice as many.
The 20-year-old midfielder said: “We have a lot of quality players who can do a lot of great things, but sometimes we just can’t find the back of the net. We need to find a way to start breaking teams down, but sometimes we create chances and don’t take them.
“It’s not a case of being scared to play at Easter Road, not at all. The reception we have had from the fans has been very good in a lot of the games. I think teams come here, sit in and defend and it’s difficult to break them down when there’s 11 bodies behind the ball. We have quite a young team with not as much experience perhaps as some other sides, but I don’t think that’s a reason.
“We should be scoring goals, but sometimes luck doesn’t go our way or we haven’t taken chances at crucial moments.”
Stanton accepted that Hearts will have been facing similar matches with opposition teams looking at prising even a point from a side which has dropped just four from a possible 39 as something of an achievement. But pointing out it took a thunderbolt from Tynecastle defender Alim Ozturk to prevent Hibs from wrecking that record, he said: “It’s impressive that they haven’t lost yet, but I don’t think they have been completely perfect. They’ve done well, but we could have had the derby game but for a wonder goal and there’s been other matches where one goal would have swung things in our favour.
“The eight points that have gone with these draws at home would have given the table an entirely different look – it is frustrating. We know one goal here or there and we’d be in a completely different situation. But we’re not.
“Can we close that points gap? I don’t see why not. We just need to keep taking each game as it comes. If we catch them, we catch them. If we don’t, we don’t, but we’ll keep doing our best to do so. This weekend we can close the gap on one or the other, if not both of them if they draw, but it’s about winning our game first.”
The trip to Dumbarton will be the first of three successive away matches for Hibs and, according to Stanton, that could well help him and his team-mates. Recalling that impressive 3-1 win at Ibrox, he said: “Again it’s frustrating, knowing we can put in performances like that. But hopefully being at home will see teams be a bit more open, come out a bit more and that should give us more chance to hit them on the counter-attack.”
Stanton will also be hoping to win a place in the starting XI, particularly given the injuries which have left head coach Stubbs short of five first team players in Farid El Alagui, Jordon Forster, Dylan McGeouch, Mark Oxley and Scott Robertson.
The youngster, who scored twice as the club’s Under-20s demolished Dundee 7-0 earlier in the week, last enjoyed such an occasion at the end of September, the 1-0 defeat away to Queen of the South. He said: “It’s been hard not playing as much as I would like, but the team has been going well and when that’s the case it’s difficult to get back in.
“But we’ve a few injuries so, fingers crossed, hopefully that chance will come again.”