LITTLE over a year ago, Scott Robertson was deemed one of the finest central midfielders in Scotland and widely tipped to flourish in the English Championship upon leaving Dundee United last summer. Yet, after a disastrous spell at Blackpool followed by an underwhelming start to his Hibs career, the 28-year-old now finds himself endeavouring to rediscover his mojo and get his stalled career back on track.
To that end, the Scotland cap has made a decent start. Although Hibs have endured a disastrous opening to their campaign, Robertson has generally been absent from such calamity. He has featured in all three defeats so far this season, but came on after the damage was done in both legs of the Europa League mauling against Malmo and then left the field with cramp five minutes before Motherwell scored their late winner in last Sunday’s Scottish Premiership opener.
His performance against the Fir Park side – one of his best since moving to Easter Road in January – suggests he might just be about to rediscover the form that made him one of Scotland’s most sought-after players as recently as last summer. He is desperate to continue his mini-resurgence against Hearts at Tynecastle on Sunday.
“On a personal level, last season certainly wasn’t my best one,” he admits. “In fact, it was a bit of a write-off for me. There were certain personal situations and circumstances that led to things not working out and in the end I probably took my eye off the ball a bit. I never had a pre-season last summer and there were lots of other things that happened, although I don’t really want to point fingers. A situation developed where I just wanted away from Blackpool.
“I was happy to join Hibs in January, but by then I had only played one game for Blackpool in the first half of the season, so the second half of last season was just about trying to get some sort of training sharpness and match fitness, which never really came until the end of the season.
“Over the summer and this pre-season, I’ve been trying my best to get back to a level where I can show Hibs fans what I’m really capable of. I’m just looking to try and kick-start my career again and have a good season. I need to get back to the form that I’ve produced at my previous clubs. I want to establish myself this season after feeling my way in last season. The central midfielders that left last season have been replaced by players of equally good quality, so it’s going to be hard to stay in the team but my aim this season is to make it impossible for the manager to leave me out.”
In that respect, he did a pretty good job last weekend, with his display helping Hibs match one of the league’s strongest sides – until he left the field. “I certainly feel more like my old self now than I did back in January,” he said. “I enjoyed the game against Motherwell. I felt we were comfortable until they scored late on. I missed a couple of weeks of pre-season with a strain, so I haven’t played too much football lately, and it took its toll a bit against Motherwell because I ran myself into the ground and ended up having to come off with cramp.”
While the game went reasonably well for Robertson on a personal level, the defeat merely heightened the pressure on Hibs and, in particular, manager Pat Fenlon ahead of Sunday’s derby. The Easter Road side have had to endure a relentless stream of negative headlines over the past fortnight since losing 7-0 to Malmo, but Robertson is adamant that talk of implosion at Easter Road has been way overblown on the back of one particularly bad night at the office. “The Malmo result was inexcusable,” he acknowledges. “But if we hadn’t have got to the Scottish Cup final, we wouldn’t have been in Europe and we wouldn’t have had that result. I’m not saying we’re victims of our success or anything like that, but, if we hadn’t qualified for Europe, the Motherwell game would have been our first one the season and there would have been no talk of us being in crisis.
“Crisis is a ridiculously strong word. If we win on Sunday and then go on and win next weekend, six points from nine won’t seem so bad. We just need a couple of decent results and all this negative talk will be forgotten. As players, we don’t feel under any extra pressure. We’re just focused on trying to go out and win a derby match. It was only a few months ago that we were winning a derby at Tynecastle and everything was fine.”
That 2-1 success was one of the few high points in the Hibs career of Robertson, who came off the bench with ten minutes left to set up Ross Caldwell for a last-minute winner.
Memories of that heady day in May, when Hibs made it five derbies unbeaten, whet Robertson’s appetite for this weekend’s jaunt across the city. “It was great to be involved in that game,” he recalls. “The atmosphere that day was incredible and to come from behind and win a derby at Tynecastle late on was something special. I was involved in the winning goal as well, which was great. The fact it meant we finished the season unbeaten against them made it even sweeter.
“It’s always good, psychologically, to have an unbeaten run against your city rivals, but every game’s different. Their team will be totally different to the one we faced last season and ours is likely to be much-changed as well.”
Robertson knows this Sunday’s showdown is massive for both sides, and is champing at the bit to get out and do battle against the fired-up young whipper-snappers striving to help Hearts through their well-documented troubles. “It really is a huge game,” he said. “We’ve both lost our first game of the season so there’s pressure on both clubs to get a result. We’re not in a great situation at the moment – after what happened in Europe, we need to get points on the board and kick-start our season. A derby itself is always a huge game, but when there’s so much at stake, it just adds extra spice. I’m really looking forward to it.
“It’ll be a battle, but hopefully football will come out on top and we can play the way we know we can and come away with the result. If we can get a result away to our nearest rivals, it could give us that wee bit extra confidence we need to go on a run like we did at the start of last season.”
Alongside Robertson in the Hibs engine room will be Kevin Thomson, another 28-year-old midfielder showing signs of getting back to form after joining Hibs midway through last season and failing to set the heather alight.
Incidentally, the duo’s last appearances for Scotland came on the same fateful night, with Robertson coming off the bench to replace Thomson in a 3-0 friendly thrashing in Sweden three years ago this Sunday. The former Rangers player has – Malmo home game apart – had a bright start to the season and Robertson is relishing the prospect of the pair of them operating in tandem this season. “I really enjoy playing beside Kevin,” he said. “He’s an experienced player who’s played at an enviable level.
“He’s a great player to have around you in the dressing-room and he’s good for the youngsters to learn from. He’s the sort of player you want in your team for a game like this Sunday’s because he’s a cool head who can help you get control of the game.”