No matter what angle you look at it from, Hibs’ home record over the past year and more has been simply abysmal, a primary reason why the Easter Road club today find themselves locked in a desperate battle with Dunfermline to avoid relegation from the SPL.
Since goals from Callum Booth and Lewis Stevenson downed Inverness Caley 13 months ago, the Edinburgh club have managed just one league win in the Capital, a narrow 3-2 victory over St Johnstone.
One solitary triumph in 20 attempts on their own turf, 11 of which ended in defeat or, to put it another way, a measly 11 points taken from a possible 60 in a run which has seen Hibs concede an average of two goals with just one scored. Little wonder, then, that Pat Fenlon has conceded Easter Road is far from the fortress it once used to be although the Hibs boss could probably be accused of stating the obvious. Far from the days when a record of just two defeats in 19 matches made a visit to the Leith ground a daunting prospect for any side.
Indeed, in season 2000-2001 only Celtic could boast fewer defeats at home than Alex McLeish’s side, leaving Nick Colgan, Hibs goalkeeper at the time, to recall: “I’m not one to say ‘back in my day’, but we got off to a cracking start,
“We drew against Hearts at Tynecastle on the opening day and then went on to beat the two Dundee teams at home. Winning breeds confidence, momentum is a great thing. You go into games knowing you’d create chances and score goals while safe in the knowledge there’s a good spine to the team.
“We had a pretty good squad, you were confident in the players around you and you were optimistic going into every game, you looked forward to each match.” Hibs, in fact, lost just once in their opening 14 matches of that season and while some might argue that with the likes of Franck Sauzee, Russell Latapy, Mixu Paatelainen, David Zitelli and John O’Neil, McLeish’s squad was far ahead of that Fenlon enjoys, Colgan would argue the Old Firm were probably stronger back then as well, Celtic enjoying the services of Henrik Larsson, Chris Sutton, Lubo Moravcik, Stilian Petrov and so on while Rangers had such as Tugay, Barry Ferguson, Jorge Albertz, Claudio Reyna and Peter Lovenkrands.
However, regardless of who is pulling on the shirt, Colgan, pictured right, insisted a solid home record was the key to whatever success a team may enjoy, pointing out the fact that despite winning just once at Easter Road, Hibs’ four-point advantage over the Pars – who have yet to taste victory at East End Park this season - is down in large part to that triumph over St Johnstone back in September. But having visited his old stomping ground to witness Celtic’s recent 5-0 romp over Fenlon’s side, Republic of Ireland internationalist Colgan, pictured below, admitted he could sense an apprehension shared by players and fans alike, an experience he’s suffered himself in the past.
He said: “I went through a similar thing with Grimsby when we went 25 games without a win, the worst run in years for the club. It’s a horrible thing.
“I thought Hibs held their own against Celtic for 20 minutes and later Lewis Stevenson had a great chance when he tried to lob Fraser Foster which would have put them right back in the game but after that they looked as if they had resigned themselves to losing.
“But Hibs aren’t going to stay up thanks to the matches against Celtic and Rangers, it’s the games with the likes of Dunfermline, Inverness, St Mirren that matter more.”
Hibs current plight, though, has put everyone, players and fans alike, on edge, Colgan believing they are in a “Catch-22” situation with supporters desperately seeking something to cheer and those on the field equally anxious to avoid the simple mistake which can quickly turn the crowd against them.
Under these circumstances, Colgan insisted, players need to be brave enough to withstand the pressures brought upon them.
He said: “At the beginning of every season every teams wants to be very hard to beat at home, victories and playing well breeds confidence. Unfortunately, on the other hand losing becomes a habit and there’s nothing worse than having such a run at home.
“Everyone becomes apprehensive, the supporters turn up wanting to be entertained. They won’t cheer from first whistle to last, they want something to get them off their seats but the players need the fans behind them, But it comes to individual players not wanting to be the one who might make a mistake and cost a goal, or take the chance of getting across their defender to maybe miss a scoring opportunity.
“There’s apprehension all round and it takes brave, brave people.
“Whatever is happening in the crowd, the chants or boos you have to take on the chin, believe in yourself, that you are a good player, to have the courage to get on the ball and try to make positive things happen.
“For me the best way forward is for everyone has to look after their own game, to do their job – you defend as well as you can, you keep goal as well as you can and so on. Everyone has to stick together, players and fans alike.
“When a club is on a good run mistakes are forgiven almost straight away but not when victories don’t happen on a regular basis. But what the fans have to remember is that no player has ever gone out on the pitch trying to make a mistake or not trying to do his best.
“Everyone, the board, the manager, the players, the supporters want the same thing and if the fans give the team their full backing then the players will respond to that.
“Players have to make sure they are in the best possible shape for matchday. You can do everything right and still have a stinker – we’ve all done that – and can’t explain why, but you have to give yourself every opportunity to have a positive performance, to be on top of your game.”
Colgan, who now plays for Huddersfield and coaches goalkeepers at Barnsley’s Academy, believes the appointment of former Hearts boss Jim Jefferies by Dunfermline following the sacking of Jim McIntyre adds a new twist to the relegation dog-fight.
He said: “It was a great pity to see Jim McIntyre lose his job as he is a friend of mine but Dunfermline felt they needed to do something that might give them the opportunity to claw back those four points. When I saw they’d gone for Jim Jefferies I thought that would be a great appointment for them. They’ll be hoping that with a new manager the players will raise their game a bit although, to me, that always begs the question why that wasn’t done under the previous manager.
“There will be some who perhaps felt they weren’t getting a chance under Jim McIntyre and others who perhaps thought their place in the side was set in stone so it will give everyone a kick.
“Jim Jefferies, although he has been out of the game for a while, knows a lot about the League, he’ll have been watching matches and will know a great deal about the Dunfermline players. However, it might take him three, four or five games to get his best team and Dunfermline don’t have that time.
“That four-point gap is still huge, one win doesn’t get Dunfermline above Hibs but I’m sure Pat Fenlon will want to get some more points on the board as soon as possible.”