The first Edinburgh derby of the season may be looming, but Hibs striker Akpo Sodje insists tonight’s clash with Berwick Rangers should be the only game concerning Colin Calderwood’s squad.
Facing Third Division opposition may not quite carry the same attraction as Sunday’s showdown with Hearts at Tynecastle, but Sodje firmly believes the Scottish Communities League Cup tie represents a must-win match for an Easter Road side reeling from yet another defeat.
Victory would not only offer Calderwood’s players some much-needed respite but a timely boost to confidence ahead of the trip to Gorgie, one which most Hibs fans are eyeing with more than a little trepidation following a third defeat in the first four SPL games of the season.
Although there appears to be no discernible improvement from last season – at least thus far – Sodje predicted an upturn in Hibs’ fortunes once Calderwood has his full strikeforce at his disposal, injury having robbed him of the services of the former Charlton hitman and new signing Junior Agogo.
The Ghana internationalist was missing again as blunders from Callum Booth and Victor Palsson gifted St Mirren the three points at the weekend while Sodje made his first appearance of the season, 24 minutes as a second-half substitute in his comeback from medial knee ligament damage sustained in the pre-season game against Livingston.
As a result Garry O’Connor has been utilised as a lone striker, a role he’s fulfilled with more than a degree of success with three goals although, sadly, only his strike against Inverness Caley has brought any points.
However, Sodje believes his hard-pressed colleague won’t have too long to wait before both he and Agogo join him in finding the back of the opposition net. Sodje, who claimed six goals in 13 starts following his January move to Easter Road, said: “Garry has made a great start to the season having come back to the club and I’m delighted for him.
“Getting three in four is the sort of record any striker wants and I’m sure he’ll keep on scoring. It’s been disappointing for both Junior and myself to have been injured, we’d have liked to have our seasons up-and-running as well but I am quite excited at the thought of all three of us being available to the gaffer.”
A lack of goals, just 39 scored in 38 matches, was part of the reason why Hibs crashed to tenth place in the SPL table last season, another factor being the number conceded at the other end, a problem which again appears to be hindering the Easter Road outfit’s efforts.
But Sodje is convinced that both can be addressed satisfactorily. He said: “Junior and I have been working really hard in training on all aspects of our game, especially finishing and hopefully we’ll soon be among the goals just like Garry. All three of us are experienced strikers, we’ve been there before and know what we have to do. Fingers crossed the chances will come and we will put them away.
“We are all eager to score but there’s no competition between us, so long as the goals come then we’ll be happy whoever gets them. At the moment I’m looking to get myself back 100 per cent fit like I was when I first arrived. I’d been looking forward to my first match back after injury, but it was frustrating that we lost. However, once the goals start coming for all of us then I’m sure the opposition will find it difficult to stop us and we’ll start climbing the table.”
Calderwood’s injury worries, however, haven’t been confined to his strikeforce, with experienced defenders Michael Hart and Sean O’Hanlon on the casualty list which has resulted in a back four boasting an average age of just 20 being fielded in recent weeks.
Although Palsson, David Stephens, Paul Hanlon and Booth came up with a clean sheet as Hibs recorded their first ever win at Inverness – following it up with another shut-out against Sunderland – individual errors have cost the Edinburgh side dearly since, six goals shipped in the two games against Kilmarnock and St Mirren. Booth and Palsson were the latest culprits, mistakes in the space of just three minutes contriving to gift St Mirren the two goals which proved enough to win but Sodje believes that, as his young team-mates gain experience, such simple errors will become more of a rarity.
He said: “The two young lads made mistakes, they know they did but it isn’t going to help by dwelling on it and pointing the finger. Callum and Victor will undoubtedly be feeling bad about what happened but I’m sure they’ll learn from the experience and make sure they don’t make those sort of errors again.
“We’ve all made mistakes in matches, every player does at some point but it’s how you react to it that matters most. You can’t undo what has happened, what you need to do is take out your frustration in the next game.”
Tonight’s match offers that opportunity and to Sodje’s mind a win over Berwick, for the moment at least, far outweights any thoughts of Sunday’s derby. He said: “Losing three games at the start of the season isn’t good and obviously the Hearts match is going to be a big one as it always is and everyone is looking forward to it. However, to us tonight’s match is the one that matters most, only once it is over can we think about the weekend.
“We know the fans weren’t happy on Saturday but we are the only guys who can get them back on side. They are disappointed and it is up to us to change that with good results. We are still only in the early part of the season, if we can get ourselves on a good run then everyone will be much happier and we’ll certainly start to see our League position improve.”