For Kevin Thomson, the alarm bell started ringing a long time ago. Sitting high in the stand at Easter Road, he sensed danger as he watched Terry Butcher’s players beginning to toil, hearing the moans of the fans around him as game after game went against the Easter Road club.
The hope of securing a top-six finish for the first time in four seasons, however, probably blinded most to those warning signs as they comforted themselves with the hope that the following match would bring a change of fortune.
Sadly, with Hibs downward spiral unabated, Thomson’s worst fears now realised with the 17-point gap which now separates the Capital club from sixth-placed St Johnstone – the side they were chasing only a few weeks ago – testament to their woes.
Anxious not to appear wise after the event, the 29-year-old lifelong Hibs fan revealed he sensed trouble as, used sparingly by Butcher, he sat among his fellow supporters. He said: “I think you get in a groove, a rut, in whatever walk of life when you think it’s going to be all right next week and before you know it you are in bother.
“I don’t think anyone ever contemplated us being in this situation but, and I don’t want to sound like a know-all, I could sense it was potentially coming. I wasn’t involved, but things were not going great and I was in the stand hearing the punters moaning and groaning when it was three or four defeats in a row and now, all of a sudden, it’s one win in 15.
“I could see it going that way, but not to the extent it has and I think probably deep down the manager could see it. He’s been trying to get a reaction from the boys, he’s been changing the team on a regular basis trying to find the right blend.”
Although that winning formula has eluded Butcher for what seems an eternity to Hibs fans, Thomson, who has started only two matches since the big Englishman replaced Pat Fenlon in November, insisted the much berated Easter Road squad does possess the quality to have avoided their current predicament, now just three points above Ross County in the play-off spot.
The troubles may deepen even further with already relegated Hearts pitching up at Easter Road on Sunday, the memory of their last derby win only a few weeks ago still fresh in their minds and well aware of the damage they could inflict on their arch-rivals should they come out on top for a fourth time in five clashes this season.
But while many Hibs fans are viewing the latest visit from the Gorgie outfit with more than a hint of trepidation, Thomson insisted he’s relishing the challenge.
The former Rangers and Middlesbrough player said: “I feel this team, if it was playing four or five games a month, should be capable of winning three or four of them – and if it was having a good month would be winning four or five. But as it stands we are not winning any of them.
“So as a group of players, as a team, as a club we have to stand together and find the right recipe. Whether it’s blood, tears and thunder to get the points or people showing a bit of composure on the ball, someone having that X-factor to score a goal that wins us the game.
“Or do we play the way Rangers used to play in the Champions League, put ten men behind the ball and nick a goal on the counter-attack and get the three points? It’s needs must and we have to try to find the recipe to do that.”
Being involved in a scrap at the wrong end of the table is something of a new experience for a player who enjoyed a UEFA Cup final appearance during his stint at Ibrox – although he admits he can recall little of that night in Manchester against Zenit St Petersburg – but, he insisted, he’s relishing the latest showdown with Hearts just as much.
He said: “Let’s not beat about the bush, this is a huge game and it should be built up as a huge game. People should be anticipating it, training has to be of an intensity and the boys realise what is at stake. And if we put in a performance we know this team is capable of, then I believe we can win on Sunday. There should be pressure on you every day as a player because it makes you a better player. On a personal note I want to be the one who sticks his chest out, gets on that pitch and grabs the game by the scruff of the neck.
“I’ve been lucky enough to win the title a couple of times, I’ve played in good teams and teams that have struggled a bit, but I’ve been in teams which have been at the top of the league rather than the bottom but we are where we are and, if I’m being honest, I’m relishing the challenge.”
If frustrated by a lack of action under Butcher – partially caused by injury – Thomson is desperate to play his part in the closing games of the season to secure Hibs top-flight status. He said: “It’s been difficult being in the team one week and out the next, but I feel personally I have done all right.
“I just need to keep battling away and if selected then I don’t think anyone will feel have let them down.
“I am as confident as I always am. I always fancy my chances to beat anyone but at the same time I am a realists. It’s going to be a big game and if the manager gives me the nod I’ll be giving 110 per cent.”