Owain Tudur Jones today admitted Hibs had been staring relegation in the face for weeks thanks to their inability to help themselves.
A season which began with Europa League football in mid-July ended in tears, the Easter Road side condemned to Championship football next season after losing a dramatic penalty shoot-out in a play-off to Hamilton Accies.
And Tudur Jones conceded it was the same old failings which had come back to haunt Terry Butcher’s side as they squandered their two goal advantage they’d taken from the first leg at New Douglas Park.
Chance after chance to save themselves were scorned as the Capital outfit slowly but surely slid down the Scottish Premiership table, their hopes of a top-six finish evaporating to be replaced by a grim battle to retain their top flight status, a fight which they ultimately lost.
Today the towering Welsh midfielder insisted he and his team-mates had “got what they deserved,” revealing the way in which they’d been played off the park on their own pitch had left each and everyone of them embarrassed.
As Butcher began what he had described as a “massive restructuring” of the club by telling Kevin Thomson and James McPake their contracts wouldn’t be renewed, Tudur Jones said: “There’s no way to sugar coat it. When you analyse, certainly the second half of the season, you can say we got what we deserved.
“The 2-0 scoreline gives Hamilton a licence to sort of be free with nothing to lose kind of thing and that’s the way it ended up being. You have to give them credit, they ended up outplaying us on our own pitch and that’s a tough one. There’s a real sense of embarrassment amaong the players.”
Agreeing this had taken on the appearance of a season which was never going to end, the former Swansea, Norwich and Inverness Caley player said: “It really has felt that way. You look back to the first half of the season where we felt things were not ticking along too well but around Christmas we picked up a couple of wins and I don’t think anyone really saw this coming.
“Again it’s a feeling of embarrassment what we have done, this run of results in the second half of the season that has seen us slowly fall away and other teams catch us. We had more than enough chances, that’s a fact. We have gone into the last couple of months knowing one win against the right opposition, one of the bottom six, would have been enough to keep us up. It’s always been that sort of ‘we have another chance next week, next week, next week’ only to end up in the play-offs and unfortunately that run of results has continued.”
Tudur Jones insisted complacency wasn’t behind Hibs latest capitulation, reckoning the simple explanation was the shortcomings which have dogged Butcher’s players for months.
He said: “We didn’t treat the game lightly or think the job was done. Anyone watching the first game would see Hamilton are a very good side. We knew and have known for weeks that first goals are crucial and when they have worked in our favour it’s given us the impetus to go on and get a second. But Sunday was the same old story if you like of us conceding the first goal.”
Jason Scotland’s early opener made it a fraught afternoon for the Hibs fans in the 18,031 crowd but, despite intense pressure from Accies, Butcher’s players looked as if they were about to hold on, a 1-0 defeat while unsatisfactory enough to keep them up.
But with just 75 seconds remaining, Tony Andreu’s strike forced the game into extra-time and then on to penalties, Kevin Thomson and Jason Cummings missing from the spot while Accies converted all four of theirs.
Tudur Jones said: “We have to be able to see the job through and we were unable to do that. We have folded in that department a couple of times this season, just look back to the Motherwell game where we had done terrifically well to come back from 2-0 down to go 3-2 up and not win. It’s about getting the job done, of making sure you come off that pitch with the points.
“Against Accies we were a minute away from staying in the league but were unable to keep them out and that has proved costly.”
Tudur Jones, who along with Ryan McGivern and Liam Craig converted his spot-kick, insisted a penalty shoot-out was a test of nerve rather than the lottery as some describe it, saying: “You try to take your penalty as well as you possibly can and, fair play to Hamilton, they took theirs nicely.”
Cummings was naturally distraught to see his effort, the last of Hibs five, saved by Accies goalkeeper Kevin Cuthbert, the 18-year-old having been the two-goal hero at New Douglas Park, and many questioned whether the youngster should have been handed such responsibility.
But Tudur Jones disagreed. He said: “Jason was in tears in the dressing-room. He has probably gone through the sort of feelings in the past few days that some lads don’t have in their whole career.
“I’m absolutely sure he’d rather have had it the other way round, going from zero to hero but unfortunately in a shoot-out someone has to miss. We had both ends of the scale, one of the most experienced players in our camp in Kevin Thomson, a terrific football player, missing the first one and then Jason who has just started his career missing the last one. You could say Jason shouldn’t have taken that one, but he felt confident stepping up. He wanted that responsibility and you have to respect that. It just didn’t come off for him. Had the other penalties gone differently, we might have been in the situation where we were leading with the fifth one to win.
“I’m sure if that had been the case there would have been a spring in his step and he would have felt differently about it. But it’s been and gone and we have to face the reality of what is to come.”
And that, of course, is Championship football in a league containing both Rangers and Capital rivals Hearts with only one of the ten sides who will contest the title guaranteed automatic promotion. Hibs’ relegation resulted in a demonstration outside the ground with around 600 furious fans demanding the heads of both Butcher and chairman Rod Petrie, a reaction Tudur Jones understood perfectly.
The 29-year-old said: “The gaffer is what he is. I think everyone knows what he is like. He is whole-hearted. He is as disappoinTed as anyone. Everyone is hurting.
“Fans have their say. They pay their money to watch football matches and they have an opinion.”