Scott Robertson feels that for the first time since he’s been at the club, Hibs are starting to totally dominate games – and he puts that down to the team’s new 3-5-2 formation.
However, the 29-year-old midfielder admits that there is one key ingredient missing – goals – and that they have to find that final piece of the jigsaw quickly if they are to achieve their “minimum target” of the play-offs this season.
Robertson has played a central part in head coach Alan Stubbs’ 3-5-2 system since the Englishman introduced it away at Ross County in the League Cup last month. Hibs won that match 2-0 against their Premiership opposition, then going on to win 3-1 at Ibrox in the league against Rangers before two disappointing draws at Easter Road against Raith Rovers and Dumbarton. The former Dundee United man has played every minute of the 3-5-2 era and believes it is getting the best out of the Hibs midfielders.
Speaking after the 0-0 draw against the Sons on Saturday, Robertson told the Evening News; “I think for the first time that I’ve been at the club, we’ve been in complete control of a game. Obviously they had a couple of half-chances from long throws and set-pieces, but I really felt we were in total control of the match and put them under severe pressure.
“The gaffer at the moment is massive on encouraging players to be comfortable on the ball and pass it. The emphasis is not always about passing it forward and I think under the previous regime it was about pressing teams and getting as high up the pitch as early as you can.
“I think the manager has given us a licence to rotate in there that manages to free up players. Obviously we are coming up against a five-man midfield most weeks, but we seem to be able to work it that we get some time on the ball in the middle and actually advance up the pitch. It is helping create chances, but we’re still not getting what we’re looking for.
“Obviously the manager is very frustrated with the result, like ourselves, but he came into the dressing-room after the game and said that he really couldn’t ask for any more from us. It’s a similar scenario to last week, although he thinks we played better this week – we’re just not being ruthless enough and taking the chances when they come our way.”
Hibs had 60 per cent of the possession against Dumbarton and mustered 25 attempts on goal. They are manipulating the midfield well and switching play from side-to-side effortlessly. Having three midfielders to dictate play – on Saturday it was Robertson, Liam Craig and Dylan McGeouch – has made Hibs a much more robust side compared to the one that lost 1-0 at home to Falkirk and meekly surrendered a 1-0 lead away at Alloa earlier in the season to lose 2-1. They are creating chances, but just not taking them.
“We’ve been saying for the last couple of weeks that we’re on the verge of giving someone a hammering, because we feel like the performances have been really good,” continued Robertson, “but we’re going to have to be more clinical. We felt like against Raith Rovers we should have been out of sight by half-time, but we weren’t, and they came back and got an equaliser. Saturday has been a similar scenario. I think we’ve managed to keep a clean sheet for the first time [in the league] this season, which is obviously a positive, but at home to Dumbarton, that should be expected.”
Of course, the Hibees did technically “score” on Saturday. Dominique Malonga’s 40th-minute penalty wasn’t the best, but he hit it with enough venom for the ball to drill its way underneath Sons goalkeeper Danny Rogers and pop over the line before it could be clawed back. Referee Barry Cook, who could not have been in a better position to spot it, did not award the goal, adding further to Hibs’ frustration.
“The penalty, it’s so clearly over the line, the frustration from something like that... if that gets given, as it clearly should have been, then it’s obviously a different game,” lamented Robertson. “We’re 1-0 up and they have to come out a bit more.
“I’m right behind Dominique trying to run in for a rebound. I could see the grass in between the ball and the line. Obviously I’m screaming at the referee, who could not have much of a better position. He was at the opposite side of the linesman. I think the goalkeeper was obscuring the view of the linesman, but the referee’s got a great view. I’ve got no idea why he’s not given it. From my view it was very clear.”
The history books, however, will report that the spot-kick was saved and that Hibs dropped points for the third time at home this season. They now lie 14 points behind table-toppers and city rivals Hearts, but Robertson believes that Hibs have to put their neighbours’ form out of their minds and focus on their own goals, which, as Robertson admitted, is at the very least the play-offs.
“Absolutely, it’s about us,” continued Robertson. “We’ve lost another two points on them, but we’re just looking to get another place up the league. We’ve been saying that for the past two weeks, but we’ve only picked up two points.
“The play-offs is the absolute minimum target, it has to be. Obviously, we’d like to claw back what we’ve lost already, and I’d like to think that Hearts are going to drop points sooner rather than later.
“We’ll be looking to do that in two weeks when they come here. They’re a force to be reckoned with in this league, but obviously derby games are totally different and we’d like to think that when they come here, we’ll be a good match for them.”