Hibs, Hearts and Rangers are all desperate to get out of the Championship – but Cowdenbeath will be delighted just to stay in it.
Despite their differing aspirations, Blue Brazil goalkeeper Thomas Flynn today warned the “big three” that the Fife club, currently bottom of the table, have no intention of meekly accepting their underdog tag.
A trip to Easter Road today will be quickly followed by another trip across the Forth to Tynecastle next Saturday for Jimmy Nicholl’s side and, former Hibs kid Flynn insisted, while such matches would once never have crossed the minds of him and his team-mates, they are games to be relished.
The 24-year-old said: “I don’t think you could ever have envisaged Hibs, Hearts and Rangers all being in the Championship at the same time. For a club like Cowdenbeath, the only time you’d expect to play one of them would be in a cup tie.
“We’re the smallest club in the league – in fact, there’s bigger teams than us in League One – and it’s great for a little team like us to have the chance to go and play at big grounds in front of big crowds.
“Most of our squad are part-time, which makes it more difficult, but we are used to it. We’ve been playing in the Championship for the past couple of years Our performances have been brilliant and we’ve competed well against teams like Falkirk and Queen of the South. The fact we are still here does, I think, show the character of the people running the club, the players, the management.
“And if we play as we can, then we’ll have a chance. We’re certainly not going into these games with any intention of lying down. This league isn’t easy regardless of who is in it and if Hibs, Hearts and Rangers think it’s just going to be about them, then they’ll get a bit of a surprise.”
Flynn admitted the prospect of facing Hearts and Rangers this season had boosted Cowdenbeath’s determination to hold onto their place in the second tier of Scottish football, Nicholl’s players defying the odds to win a play-off final against their bigger neighbours Dunfermline and then finding that Hibs, too, would be playing Championship football this season.
He said: “With Hearts and Rangers going to be in the league, we knew it was vitally important that we stayed up. Everyone had written us off after we drew the first game at Central Park, but we went to Dunfermline, played them off the park and thoroughly deserved our 3-0 win. We didn’t know at that time Hibs would also be relegated. They’d won the first leg of their play-off against Hamilton and looked as if they would be staying up.
“Now we are all in the same league, maybe for different reasons, but there all the same. The presence of these three has made it a very exciting competition. They’ll all feel they should be in the Premiership, but for us, while we’d love to be mid-table, it would be a fantastic achievement to stay in the Championship for another year.”
Clubs like Cowdenbeath will, obviously, feel a great financial benefit from having a total of six visits from the “big three” when crowds will be numbered in thousands rather than hundreds and given only one of them – although other clubs will insist they’ll have a say – will be guaranteed promotion, the incentive, claimed Flynn, is there again for next season.
He said: “At least one of them will still be in the Championship next season regardless of what happens. You could get the likes of Dunfermline coming up and if two of the big three do win promotion then there will be another Premiership side coming down to take their place. That means next season’s Championship will be just as competitive and, again, the financial benefits for a club like Cowdenbeath will be considerable.”
For the time being, though, Flynn’s future planning goes no further ahead than this afternoon’s game at Easter Road. A league and Scottish Cup double winner with Hibs Under-19s, the Newcastle-born player admitted he was looking forward to his return.
He said: “I’ve only played there once, an East of Scotland Shield match so, in effect, this will be my first competitive game at Easter Road. I was with Hibs for four years, but I was never fortunate enough to get a first-team game. Most of the guys I played with are no longer at Hibs, but it will be good to catch up with the likes of Paul Hanlon, Callum Booth and Lewis Stevenson.”
Flynn acknowledged that Hibs are favourites to win but, having lost three of their first four matches, Alan Stubbs’ side are only two points ahead of Cowdenbeath, giving the Fifers the incentive of jumping above them should they, again, defy the odds. Pointing to the Scottish Cup clash between the clubs two years ago in which the Capital side were given a huge fright before winning 3-2, Flynn said: “We were all devastated afterwards – we definitely felt we should have won.
“I know we haven’t got the results so far this season, but we’ve drawn twice over 90 minutes with Falkirk, only losing to them in the League Cup on penalties, and they went to Easter Road and won. Hibs haven’t made the greatest of starts either, so they’ll be under a bit of pressure in front of their home crowd. We’ll be looking to keep their fans quiet and make them a bit restless.”