Scott Robertson today warned that winning the race to finish second in the Championship carries no guarantee of promotion.
Hibs are locked in a closely-fought battle with Rangers to end the season as runners-up to Capital rivals Hearts, but Easter Road star Robertson insists any club winning a play-off place will feel they are in with just as good a chance of going up.
Robertson knows full well the pain of relegation via the play-offs, Hibs having become the first side to lose their top-flight status in that way but, he insisted, no-one should assume the Championship side which wins the right to face the Premiership’s second bottom team will, as Hamilton did last season, go up.
While agreeing second place would reduce the number of games to be played, the midfielder said: “Everyone wants to finish second but I don’t think it’s major. It just eliminates that one chance of getting knocked out early doors which you’d obviously rather avoid because those matches between the third and fourth teams will be tense, tough games.
“Everyone is just assuming that whoever finishes second will have the advantage and that’s not necessarily the case. Then people seem to assume whoever finishes second will beat the Premiership team.
“I’ve seen teams get into the English Premier League after scraping into the play-offs in sixth place. Blackpool did it five years ago and it can be more about who has a fully-fit squad and is fresh and ready to go in the play-offs.
“It’s like the Premiership team is being written off, but they will see it as a great chance of staying up. I know Hamilton did go up last season after finishing runners-up in the Championship but nothing is guaranteed by finishing second.”
Robertson has already been taking an interest in the sides battling it out at the foot of the Premiership – St Mirren, Motherwell and Ross County – although he will be paying closer attention once the play-off places are sorted out.
Successive defeats by Rangers and Raith Rovers have left some questioning Hibs’ ability to keep second place – they head the Ibrox club only on a goal difference of two – but Robertson believes he and his team-mates can counter those claims with victory over Queen of the South this afternoon.
He said: “The main thing is getting points at this stage of the season. If you ask Raith what they’d have preferred last week – a performance or the points – then I’m sure they would have said the win.
“Others can question our bottle all they want, but it won’t affect me or anyone else at the club. The manager keeps emphasising that we need to focus on what we need to do and this weekend could be massive in terms of where we finish.
“If we can get three points, it will set us up nicely for the last five games. We don’t play Rangers now so we need to rely on others taking points off them to finish second.”
Alan Stubbs’ players will hope Hearts do exactly that when they travel to Ibrox tomorrow with Rangers also due at Tynecastle on the final day of the season and Robertson doesn’t expect the Jambos’ title celebrations to leave Robbie Neilson’s side with a hangover.
He said: “It’s still Rangers they are playing. They’ve picked up a little bit under Stuart McCall and they’ll be up for it after losing twice to Hearts this season. We want Rangers to drop points but we must focus on ourselves. We want to guarantee a play-off spot first, then focus on where we finish.”
Robertson has no doubt he and his team-mates will bounce back from the disappointment of losing back-to-back games for the first time since the opening weeks of the season. He said: “It shows how far we’ve come that people are making a big deal out of losing a couple on the bounce.”
However, he agreed with Stubbs’ assertion in the wake of that defeat in Kirkcaldy that Hibs need to be more ruthless. The former Dundee, Dundee United and Blackpool player said: “At half-time last week the manager said the only thing he wanted to change was to put the ball in the net.
“We had too many chances without taking them and that’s probably been the case in a number of games this season where we’ve dominated and not won. We thought we’d got over that stage and were picking up points, but it cropped up again. We just need to make sure we’re more clinical when we get chances.”
While Stubbs has urged his players to concentrate on themselves, Robertson admitted there was that temptation to see how others had fared.
He said: “When we were on a seven-game winning run, we weren’t really bothered what other teams were doing. But when you lose a game you start thinking ‘how did the other teams get on?’
“But the pressure comes from what we put on ourselves. We need to win games and try and go on a run of consecutive victories.
“When you play for a club like Hibs there’s pressure in every game, but the expectation level is probably greater than it was at the end of last season as we’re trying to be successful rather than trying to avoid a disaster.”