Steven Whittaker: Hibs quartet brothers in arms – for now

Steven Whittaker and John McGinn will join the Scotland camp after the game while Deivydas Matulevicius and Vykintas Slivka head for Vilnius
Steven Whittaker and John McGinn will join the Scotland camp after the game while Deivydas Matulevicius and Vykintas Slivka head for Vilnius
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For 90 minutes at Dens Park on Sunday they will be comrades in arms, their sole objective being to wrestle three points from Dundee and so prove last weekend’s shock defeat by Hamilton was nothing more than a minor jolt to what had been a smooth-running Easter Road machine.

But on the final whistle Steven Whittaker and John McGinn will head for Scotland’s luxury hotel on the banks of the River Clyde while Lithuanian duo Vykintas Slivka and Deivydas Matulevicius will high tail it to their homeland.

The quartet will be reunited next Friday in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, where they’ll find themselves on opposite sides battling for World Cup points, Gordon Strachan’s team hoping to keep their slim hopes of playing in next year’s finals in Russia alive while Slivka and Matulevicius appear to be merely looking to salvage some national pride.

Today Whittaker, who hopes to win his 32nd cap in the first of Scotland’s final qualifying double-header with Malta to follow a week on Monday, revealed he has found himself in the situation before.

He said: “It’s happened before when I was at Norwich and we played the Republic of Ireland in the European Championship qualifiers.

“Robbie Brady and Wes Hoolihan were team-mates at Carrow Road and were in the Irish squad while Russell Martin, Steven Naismith and myself were with Scotland so there was a bit of banter going back and forward.

“We got the better of them over the two games in Glasgow and Dublin but they were the ones to qualify so, at the end of the day, it wasn’t so good.

“Since Vykintas and Deivydas were called up there’s been a bit of chat between us and come next Friday we’ll all be trying to win for our countries.

“But the focus has really all been on Sunday’s match when we are looking to show last weekend was no more than a blip. It’s great the two of them are at Hibs where we can use their abilities. They’ve done well so far and they are going to be big players for us this season.”

So, too, will be McGinn, the midfielder making his international debut in the Scotland friendly against Denmark at Hampden 17 months ago that marked Whittaker’s last appearance in a dark blue shirt.

He said: “I knew a bit about John because I always kept an eye on Hibs when I was at Norwich but I got my first chance to see him for myself at that time. He was like a breath of fresh air, he’s a bubbly character, he slotted in and his quality was there to see.”

The shock defeat by Hamilton which followed impressive victories over Partick Thistle and Rangers has, not surprisingly, been dissected within the video suite at Hibs’ East Mains training centre as boss Neil Lennon and his players have tried to pinpoint exactly how such a poor performance came about.

Whittaker said: “It’s a learning curve. We can’t be this team that gets up for the big matches. We have to find a consistency. We all realise that, we’ve set a standard in the early part of the season so we’ll get on with it, learn from it and hopefully put it right.

“We can’t treat any game differently to any other, it’s three points regardless of who you are playing. There’s more hype, press and pressure with the bigger games and that’s why players find it easier to motivate themselves.

“But it’s just the same three points every weekend and we have to try to get them. We can’t just turn it on when we want, we have to find a consistency and level to our play and if we do that we will be up there come the end of the season.”

Lennon’s drive to instil a winning mentality within his squad has been well documented and it is a quality Whittaker believes senior players such as himself, Efe Ambrose and Anthony Stokes can help to bring given their extensive experience of life within the Old Firm goldfish bowl where anything but a victory is greeted as a catastrophe.

The 33-year-old said: “I think I can help in a way. It’s a team mentality. Take last Saturday, we were all struggling in the match but we have to find a little bit extra from somewhere.

“One individual might show a bit of brilliance and win a match for us from time to time, but it’s about knowing we are not doing enough in the match to win it and to all dig that bit deeper, get out of the slump we are in during the game and to turn it in our favour.

“We will do that. We’ve had our meetings since and the manager has been drumming it home that our performance wasn’t good enough.

“We are learning as a squad, we have learned from it and hopefully if we find ourselves in that situation again in future we’ll get ourselves out of it.”

Lennon urged his players not to allow themselves to be tagged “the same old Hibs” in the wake of the Hamilton defeat, one which followed a superb win against Rangers at Ibrox, a pattern which has emerged – not only at Easter Road – down the years.

As far as Whittaker is concerned the answer lies in approaching each match full of belief that it can be won no matter who the opposition might be.

Admitting he found the reaction to not winning a game when he first made his £2 million move to Rangers something of an eye-opener, he said: “That’s the club’s perceptions of results.

“But I’ve always looked on it as you are going out to win a football match regardless of the expectations of anyone. You want to win the game, it’s 11 v 11 so you are more than capable of getting the three points.

“That’s the way I’ve always looked at it and I think it’s something as a team we should be going out believing we can win regardless of who we are playing.”

Having suffered that shock to the system, Whittaker is convinced none of Lennon’s players will treat Sunday’s match against a Dundee side rooted to the foot of the Premiership table without a point from their opening three games as a formality.

He said: “I do think they have been unlucky. I’ve seen a couple of their games and they look to have dangerous players. They’ve created chances without taking them so I think their results could have been a little different to what the table shows.

“But, again, we can’t look at this game as being easy. It won’t be. We need to be at it to put last weekend right.”