The fans’ faith may be wavering, but Tom Taiwo’s conviction that Hibs can clinch the top-six finish which seemed absolutely assured a few weeks ago remains rock-solid.
The midfielder, however, admits Pat Fenlon’s players have made it hard for themselves as they spend an anxious fortnight awaiting the final run-in to the SPL split, their hopes resting on what appear to be two daunting matches, against Inverness Caley at Easter Road and then away to champions-elect Celtic.
A crushing defeat by Motherwell certainly hasn’t helped the cause, although, of the chasing pack, only Dundee United made any inroads, hauling themselves level with Hibs with a last-gasp equaliser against Dundee. Fenlon’s side still continue to enjoy a superior, if much narrower, goal difference after that 4-1 setback.
In beating Hibs, Motherwell secured their own top-six berth, a position which now allows Stuart McCall’s men to mount a charge for a European place, as can Caley. However, from fourth-placed Ross County down to Aberdeen in ninth, nothing has yet been settled, although the Staggies and St Johnstone have all but secured their place in the top half for the final five matches of the season.
For the others, it’s all set to be a nail-biting few weeks, supporters of every club no doubt scanning the fixture list and attempting to identify just where the points will be won and lost.
As far as Taiwo is concerned, four more points could be enough to see Hibs stagger over the finishing line, a view which will be seen as a tad optimistic given Fenlon’s players have won just two of their last 15 League matches, albeit one of those victories was against Celtic.
The dismal performance at Fir Park on Friday night will also not help convince the waverers, but Taiwo insisted that after a confidence-building run of five matches unbeaten, which also took Hibs into the semi-finals of the William Hill Scottish Cup, he and his team-mates will regain the self-belief required to overcome the obstacles which lie ahead.
Asked if he still believed Hibs could force their way into the top six, Taiwo’s reply was: “Definitely. We have had setbacks before this season. After the St Johnstone defeat, for example, I think people were questioning where it had all gone wrong, but we bounced back from that one with a great result at St Mirren and then made it five games without being beaten.
“There is a resilience in the squad. We know we are not Barcelona, that we are not going to play brilliantly every week, but the one thing the fans should expect is a commitment and desire, but we do seem to like doing it the hard way, don’t we?”
Taiwo accepted there’s little, if any, margin for error now, but he argued: “We’ve got two tough games and we desperately need points, but as we showed against Celtic, we are capable of beating the best teams. It’s our form against the so-called lesser teams that has let us down and that was the disappointing thing at Motherwell.
“I think on paper it looked like it was going to be a spectacle between two good teams, but we just did not show up, which was so annoying, but what is going to be there in these next two games is the endeavour because the boys really want this top-six finish. Not only that, we are playing for places in the cup semi-final at Hampden.
“If that doesn’t spur the lads on I don’t think anything will and if we can get, hopefully, four points from these last two games, I would like to think we would have a very good shot of being top six.”
Although up against it as prodigal son James McFadden turned in an inspirational display for Motherwell, Taiwo threw the 921 Hibs fans who had made Friday night’s journey to Lanarkshire a glimmer of hope as he dived to head home David Wotherspoon’s cross for his first goal for Hibs, the Edinburgh club going ahead very much against the run of play as the little star readily conceded.
The 23-year-old said: “I didn’t think we deserved to be a goal up and even if it had been level at half-time, I think we’d have taken that. I thought going a goal up would spur us on and at half-time the manager said that although it hadn’t been terrible, we could play a lot better, that we should try to force our game onto the opposition.
“We didn’t execute the game plan, that’s the players’ fault. We hold our hands up. I can’t put my finger on what went wrong, other than to say it was a collectively poor performance.”
A three-goal blitz in a 19-minute spell at the start of the second half put the game well beyond Hibs and, as such, Taiwo’s goal counted for nothing at the end of the night. The former Leeds United, Chelsea and Carlisle United youngster, though, revealed he’s hoping to became a far more regular contributor when it comes to putting the ball into the opposition net. Agreeing that he’d have been seen as an unlikely goal-scorer when he dived to meet that Wotherspoon cross, he said: “I know that’s something I have to add to my game to take me on to the next level and to improve as a player. I am working on it, I practise after training so it’s not for want of trying. I only managed two or three a season at Carlisle, mostly tap-ins when the ball was already going in, but if you can, say, add ten goals towards the tally, then you are looking at a totally different player.”
Taiwo will undoubtedly be putting extra into each of his daily sessions as he bids to find himself on the scoresheet on a more regular basis, but, he insisted, there will be plenty of work put in at East Mains before Caley come calling.
He said: “We have a little bit of time now before the next game to reflect on it, get over what was a bad defeat and to work on the training pitch. We’re looking forward to putting it right.”