JAMES McPAKE watched his Coventry City team-mates suffer the agony of relegation – and vowed he won’t let it happen to Hibs.
The former Livingston stopper is on loan at Easter Road from the Sky Blues, but that didn’t ease his pain as defeat by Doncaster Rovers ended their hopes of remaining in the English Championship.
And although Pat Fenlon’s side enjoy a six-point lead over SPL basement outfit Dunfermline in their own battle to beat the drop, McPake insisted he won’t feel safe until it is impossible for the Pars to catch Hibs.
Skipper McPake said: “It’s been tough watching what’s happened down there. After our game, it’s the first result I look for. I’ve been there for three-and-a-half years so it’s not nice. I’ve got a lot of friends there, not just on the playing side but behind the scenes and hopefully relegation won’t affect them.
“They looked as if they might get out of it at one stage by picking up results so it’s hard on the boys and everyone at the club.”
McPake is due to return to the Ricoh Arena to see out the final year of his contract with Coventry when his loan deal in Edinburgh comes to an end in a few weeks’ time but, he insisted, he won’t let events down south distract him from the task of ensuring SPL survival for Hibs.
He said: “What has happened at Coventry has just made me even more determined to make sure the same doesn’t happen here. I didn’t want either of the two clubs to be relegated.
“Since January my main focus has been on Hibs and – having experienced it at Livingston – I know that going down isn’t a good feeling. I just want to keep Hibs in the SPL.”
Although many feel time is fast running out for Dunfermline with just four matches remaining, Jim Jefferies’ side did trim Hibs advantage with a battling 4-4 draw against St Mirren – tomorrow’s opponents for Hibs (kick-off 3.15pm) – while the Edinburgh club lost to Kilmarnock 24 hours later.
And it is the same scenario this weekend with Dunfermline hosting Aberdeen the day before their rivals are in action, meaning Hibs could pitch up in Paisley only three points ahead. They could, of course, find themselves nine points ahead by tomorrow night with three to play should results in both matches go their way.
But even although Fenlon’s side enjoy a vastly superior goal difference, McPake insisted he still wouldn’t feel entirely safe.
He said: “The alarm bells are still ringing for us. Even when we went seven points clear I was worried. I’ll stop worrying when we’re mathematically safe and Dunfermline can’t catch us.
“Even if we go nine points clear this weekend with a superior goal difference I still won’t feel safe. I want it to be impossible for them because if it happens people will still talk about how many they need to win by and how many we need to lose by. I want to put it to bed, but it’s not an easy task. If they beat Aberdeen we’ll know all about it but I’ll try not to focus too much on it.”
Although Fenlon has hinted McPake, who has quickly become a favourite with the Hibs support, would be one of the loan players he brought to Edinburgh in January he’d like to stay beyond the end of this season, the defender insisted he remains in manager Andy Thorne’s plans at Coventry and relegation won’t affect his position.
He said: “I’ve never been out of the manager’s plans. I’ve admitted myself that I wasn’t fit after being out for the best part of a year with serious injury.
“In the games he played me in, I wasn’t up to scratch. I only get that with games and I’ve got that at Hibs. I’m back up to speed now. It’ll be hard leaving Hibs, I’ve only been here for a short space of time and I’ve made a lot of friends. I’ve spoken to a few of the Coventry players and obviously they’re gutted at being relegated.
“It’s such a big club but, you never know, it could work out better for them. We could go down, rebuild and come back stronger like Charlton and Southampton have done recently. They are big clubs who have gone down but come back stronger for it. Hopefully that will happen with Coventry.
“I haven’t even thought about next season, though.”