Hibs may still find victories at Easter Road hard to come by despite their impressive unbeaten run, but former Easter Road midfielder Tom Taiwo admitted today that six straight wins on the road will make Alan Stubbs’ side formidable opponents when they visit Falkirk on Saturday.
Now a Bairns player, Taiwo enjoyed a winning return to the Edinburgh ground earlier in the season, a cheeky backheel by striker Rory Loy clinching all three points for his new club. Three months on, Taiwo believes Falkirk will be facing an entirely different Hibs side, one brimming with confidence having overcome a slow start to the campaign.
He said: “I’m looking forward to Saturday. It should be a good game just like the one at Easter Road. I think we acquitted ourselves well that day, but since then Hibs have really come on, they’re picking up results and seem to be scoring at will. They’ll be a real threat, a bigger test now definitely.”
After two seasons at Easter Road before becoming one of 17 players to depart the Capital club following relegation to the Championship, Taiwo can appreciate how even now Hibs appear to do better in away matches – although home form has improved, Falkirk being the only side to inflict defeat on them. Their record, however, is marred by the fact four of those seven games have ended in draws.
The 24-year-old explained: “I think in my time there we seemed to pick up better results away from home, maybe because the opposition teams felt more obligated to take the game to us and that gave us the space to play.
“I believe the problem came from the year before when, under Pat Fenlon, we’d finished seventh, ended the season strongly and reached the final of the Scottish Cup again. The expectations were that we’d kick on, move up the league and when that didn’t happen you could feel the frustration of the fans flit from the stand to the players.
“More often than not we’d start a game quite well but if, after 20 or 30 minutes, we were pushing but not quite getting the breakthrough, you could sense a nervy energy creeping into the players. Rather than carry on with the style of performance, we became a bit agitated, tried to force things and let the opposition into the game.”
Even if Taiwo and his then team-mates enjoyed a little more success away from home, they never managed the sort of run Stubbs’ players are enjoying and, insisted the former Leeds United, Chelsea and Carlisle player, even the loss of top scorer Dominique Malonga, suspended after being sent off in the Scottish Cup win over Alloa Athletic, doesn’t lessen the danger to Peter Houston’s side.
He said: “Anyone who has a scoring record like his you have to be wary of, so it’s a bonus for us that he can’t play. But I think Hibs have been showing a real attacking threat. When you have David Gray and Liam Craig scoring as they did against Alloa and the likes of Scott Allan, Paul Hanlon and Sam Stanton getting goals against Dumbarton, then you have to be aware of the fact they can hurt you from all areas.”
However, if Hibs are on the up, Taiwo believes Falkirk, too, have steadied themselves following a disappointing period. The Bairns followed up a good away win over Alloa with a Scottish Cup victory over Cowdenbeath, whom they defeated 6-0 only a few weeks ago.
He said: “We did have a disappointing spell without many victories and we did carve out a few draws when we should have won. But the last couple of weeks we’ve shown a bit more of a ruthless edge and the second-half performance we put in against Hearts was more the sort of display we’re aiming for, a high-tempo, pressing game. We felt a bit unlucky not to come away with a point from that match.”
Havng spent his entire career in England before joining Hibs, many expected the Leeds-born player to return south over the summer but, he revealed, he resisted that temptation after speaking to Houston and being impressed by his vision for Falkirk.
He said: “It was more of a footballing decision. I did have a couple of options in England but the clubs play a more direct style, one which I didn’t think suited me. I spoke to Peter and he outlined what he wanted, the ball on the deck, a high-tempo game which I felt suited me more. My family are also settled up here and the options down south were closer to London. Falkirk is only 45 minutes away and it was nice not to have to uproot the family as I seem to have done every couple of years.”
Taiwo has found Falkirk a home from home as he teamed up again with former Hibs team-mates Alan Maybury and Owain Tudur Jones with ex-Easter Road youth coach James McDonaugh later joining the Bairns as first-team coach.
The familiarity doesn’t end there. Taiwo finds Falkirk as committed to youth as Hibs while he feels both clubs enjoy a family-orientated ethos.
He said: “Alan and Owain were two guys I really got on with. Unfortunately for Owain he picked up a knee injury which needed surgery just as he was beginning to show the form he’d enjoyed at Inverness Caley and Alan worked alongside James helping coach the Under-20s at Hibs and is doing that at Falkirk.
“When James arrived, a lot of the boys were asking me what he would be like and I told them they’d love his training sessions, that he’d championed playing good football, what a lot of people class as the right way and that’s good for the boys.
“At Hibs, young guys like Sam Stanton, Jordon Forster, Alex Harris and Jason Cummings were all nurtured by James and they’ve all hit the ground running when they’ve gone into the first team.
“At Falkirk, we’ve seen a couple of the young boys making their first-team debuts and hopefully they can push on over the course of the season and make a position their own.”
Eighteen-year-old striker Botti Biabi is one who has caught they eye in his first season and, while others like Kieran Duffie, Craig Sibbald, Blair Alston and Luke Leahy appear veterans by comparison, they, too, are still of tender years.
Taiwo said: “They know what it is like to play in this league despite being so young. They are only going to get better, as will the young lads at Hibs. They are all good talents, but their age is something that can work against them. Sometimes they can be a bit naive because of their youthful exuberance but it’s a learning process for them all.”
While Taiwo believes Hearts, Rangers and Hibs will finally occupy the top three spots in the Championship – although the exact running order will be decided months down the line rather than now – he insists finishing fourth, which would clinch the last play-off place, should not be beyond the capabilities of Falkirk.
“I think the league will split in three. We all know who the big three are, then there’s three or four teams all of a similar standard and then a couple who are struggling at the moment. I think we are in that three or four in the middle and if we can continue in a decent vein of form then hopefully we can get a play-off place.”