THERE are very few aspects of Colin Calderwood’s underwhelming period in charge that the current Hibs team should be looking to emulate. However, having given themselves a much-needed six-point buffer over relegation rivals Dunfermline with victory over Inverness on Sunday, the Easter Road side could now do with going on the type of run overseen by their previous manager around this time last year.
At the end of January 2011, Calderwood’s men sat two points clear of bottom-placed Hamilton. Then the arrival of a host of new players helped spark a seven-game unbeaten run, including five straight wins, which propelled the Edinburgh club to safety well before the season’s end.
Similarly, at the end of January this year, Hibs were just a point ahead of bottom-placed Dunfermline. This time it was Pat Fenlon, Calderwood’s successor, who recruited a host of reinforcements in an effort to fend off the threat of relegation. However, while there has been a marginal upturn since January, with progress to the Scottish Cup semi-finals a particular boon, the survival bid has been nowhere near as comprehensively dealt with this time round as it was between February and April last year.
By this point last season, Hibs had motored 20 points clear of bottom spot and were able to think about their summer holidays. Richie Towell, currently in his second spell on loan from Celtic, was one of those who was prominent in that timely form spurt last term.
Now, having made his first start in over three months in Sunday’s 3-2 win in the Highlands, the 20-year old Dubliner has called on his side to put an end to the false dawns and string together the type of consistent results that will kill off Dunfermline once and for all.
“We really need to kick on and put a run of results together,” said Towell. “We’ve been saying that for too long now, because every time we get a good result we seem to suffer another setback. Last year, we went seven games unbeaten and won five in a row. If we could just get on a run like that this time it would make sure we got over the line.
“We got a brilliant win at Inverness which has given us a bit of breathing space, but we’re not out of danger by any stretch. Hopefully, we can carry on from the win at Inverness and beat Motherwell now.”
In trying to secure their SPL safety, Hibs will do so with fire in their bellies, according to Towell. Having been criticised heavily and had their dressing-room spirit questioned following tales of unrest and infighting over the past few weeks, the Irishman suggested there’s a siege mentality developing among Fenlon’s squad.
“Some people have been saying in the papers that we’re not up for the battle but I think we showed on Sunday that that’s not the case,” he argued.
“We showed great courage and battled well to get the win. We had to grind it out and I think that shows we’re ready for the fight. I try not to take too much notice of the criticism but I think it does probably effect everyone at the club when you’re down near the bottom and getting criticised.
“With everything that was in the papers a few weeks ago, it feels like everyone’s gunning for us at the moment. Of course things boil over at times but everything’s been totally blown out of proportion.
“These things happen everywhere all the time. The fact we’re down near the bottom just makes it easier for people on the outside to take pops at us. We’ve tried to use the criticism and the stuff in the papers to galvanise ourselves and we’re all getting behind each other, which I think showed on Sunday.”
Hibs’ survival bid would be aided considerably if they could find a way of emulating their reasonable away form on home soil. They have a dire record of only one home league win in over 13 months, while they have failed to score in their last four at Easter Road. By contrast, they have scored exactly three goals in five of their last eight away games, winning four of them (albeit two were against lower-league opposition in the Scottish Cup).
“I don’t know why we seem to be better away than at home,” continued Towell. “It’s disappointing that we’ve not been winning there because the fans are really feeling it and we just want to put on a show for them.
“When teams come to Easter Road they play differently. When we go away to other grounds, our opponents are usually a lot more open, which lets us exploit them.”
Having fallen out of favour in recent months, Towell is keen to re-establish himself after earning a surprise starting berth in Inverness at the weekend.
“I came out on loan to get games but I’ve not had as many as I would have liked,” he admitted. “Thankfully, I got back in on Sunday which was brilliant. Hopefully, after helping the team get a win, I’ll have a chance of staying in the team for the Motherwell game on Sunday.”