David WOTHERSPOON today confessed to being a little bemused by the reaction to Hibs’ defeat by Kilmarnock.
Like everyone else he was bitterly disappointed with the outcome but, he argued, that as heavy as the 4-1 scoreline might have been, it has hardly plunged the Easter Road outfit into the sort of trouble many have claimed.
While some may suggest the outlook is bleak, Wotherspoon believes the picture is probably being painted much blacker than it actually is given the miserable season endured by Colin Calderwood’s players and their fans.
But accepting there are shortcomings which were all too evident at Rugby Park, the midfield youngster was adamant the work was being put in daily on the training ground to produce the results come the weekend.
The Scotland Under-21 star said: “A 4-1 defeat is not good in anyone’s eyes but I was listening to a radio phone-in on my way home the other night with fans talking about Hibs and I felt there was a bit of over-reaction.
“We are only three games into the season and already we are hearing people talking about us battling relegation. The main thing is we stay positive, we’ve had a heavy defeat but we need to regroup and regain our positivity.
“We’ve looked at the first 60 minutes of the match again and while that early first goal knocked us a bit we got back into it with a great finish from Garry O’Connor.”
However, Wotherspoon reckoned Paul Hanlon’s own goal minutes before the interval came as a body blow before further goals from James Dayton and Paul Hefferman, who had opened the scoring, ensured yet another unhappy visit to Ayrshire for Hibs who have lost 47 of the 96 League matches they’ve played at Rugby Park over the years.
He said: “We’ve looked at the match again and for the first 60 minutes we stuck to our game plan but lapses in concentration, the ball over the top and not tracking runners cost us big. I heard Graham Stack [Hibs goalkeeper] say there was also a lack of experience and we do have a young back four.
“They are learning all the time and we are working hard in training.”
Wotherspoon conceded that possibly the events of last season were acting as something of a hangover and helping contribute to the perception that Easter Road fans are in for another long, hard campaign with little, it would seem, to cheer them.
Patience, though, he believes will be key, pointing out that it was perhaps a little fanciful to expect a club which finished fifth last season to simply capitulate to a side which ended up tenth.
He said: “We had taken a lot of confidence in coming away from Inverness with our first-ever win up there while our game with Sunderland gave us another clean sheet. It was looking good for us but things do not change in an instant. It takes a bit longer and a lot of work but we are getting there. There were positives for us to take from the game and I think the boys notice that we are getting somewhere.
“Having said that, we need to score a lot more goals, do that and we will win more games.
“Some might want to paint things a lot blacker than they are by harping back to last season but we have started afresh. Tenth is not where we see ourselves and there’s no getting away from the fact Sunday was a real disappointment.
“But we have to put it behind us and look towards Saturday’s match against St Mirren. We need to get the results we believe we are capable of achieving and what our fans deserve for our support. They were brilliant with their backing for us last season. Hopefully they’ll be right behind us this weekend and we’ll give them something to cheer with our performance and, of course, the right result.”
Among the positives Wotherspoon believes can be picked from the ruins of Sunday’s match was the first sightings in a green-and-white shirt of new signings Junior Agogo, Isaiah Osbourne and Phil Airey, all of whom he believes will help strengthen Calderwood’s squad as will the earlier arrivals of Ivan Sproule, Garry O’Connor and Sean O’Hanlon.
The return of striker Akpo Sodje from a knee injury along with Agogo’s shaking off the thigh problem which hindered him through the first few weeks of his Hibs career should ensure the goals-for column takes on a healthier look as they take the weight off O’Connor who has been forced to play as a lone frontman thus far.
And things should become a bit tighter at the back once O’Hanlon recovers from the broken toe suffered on the opening day of the season, an injury which has sidelined him since. While another experienced defender in Michael Hart faces a long spell out having picked up another injury at Inverness, Wotherspoon said: “The injuries have disrupted us a bit but the new boys have settled in wel and will, I am sure, prove to be great assets for the club.
“I think we are looking a lot stronger than we were at the start of the season, there’s greater selection for the manager who has been waiting calmly and waiting for the right players to become available.”
As much as the fans will be looking for the new faces to perform, Wotherspoon accepted there was also an onus on home-grown talent such as himself, Paul Hanlon and Callum Booth to play their part in reviving Hibs’ fortunes in both the short and long term. Pointing out that there’s already another generation of Hibs kids in David Crawford. Scott Taggart, Scott Smith and Ross Caldwell eager to grab their chance, he said: “Hibs have always been renowned for producing their own players, people talk of the likes of Garry, Derek Riordan, Scott Brown, Steven Whittaker and Kevin Thomson all coming through together and now there are others looking to do the same.
“Paul, Callum and myself all know each other from our days with the Under-19s and we’ve seen the younger group coming through, looking good in training and eager for a game.
“We all share a common goal, to work hard, perform to our potential and try to get Hibs up the table.”