It’s certainly taken a bit longer than anyone had hoped or anticipated but with the finishing line now clearly in sight, Tom Soares believes the clutch of loan players drafted in by boss Pat Fenlon to aid Hibs SPL survival fight have proved their worth.
The midfield star, brought to Easter Road during the January transfer window, has been well aware there were Hibs fans have harboured doubts as to whether those who had arrived on a temporary basis could be fully committed to the cause.
Those misgivings increased as Hibs’ worries deepened, the arrival of former Hearts boss Jim Jefferies as the new manager of relegation rivals serving only to heighten the anxiety which ratcheted up a few more notches as the Pars cut the Capital club’s advantage to a mere three points.
The gap has, of course, been widened again to five points, leaving Hibs just needing to avoid relegation in tonight’s showdown with Dunfermline to save themselves and condemn the Fife outfit to First Division football next season.
As he prepared for that final push, Soares, on loan from Stoke City, insisted he had no complaint as to how some supporters perhaps regarded him and the others who had arrived for the final four months of the season, George Francomb (Norwich City), James McPake and Roy O’Donovan (both Coventry City) and Matt Doherty (Wolves).
Honduran internationalist Jorge Claros also came in but on a longer loan deal while Doherty’s Molineux team-mate Leigh Griffiths was already in situ with Fenlon extending his stay at the club he’d supported all his life.
Today Soares said: “I know a lot of fans were saying the boys on loan don’t really care as much but I think we have answered them. It doesn’t look good for any of us to have going down with a club the sized of Hibs on our CVs.
“We would have failed and we don’t want to be regarded as failures. I think all the boys, despite what we’ve been through, have really enjoyed their time with Hibs and while we don’t know what’s going to happen to us at the end of the season when we are due to return to our ‘parent clubs’, I think we all leave as Hibs fans.
“When we came in the priority was to ensure survival in the SPL, it’s taken a bit longer but now that goal has almost been achieved.” Almost is the key word and with that in mind the former England Under-21 internationalist insisted only the same level of performance as he and his team-mates produced in sinking Aberdeen in midweek will do.
He said: “It was a massive win but we have to get our heads round the fact it’s not finished yet. It was brilliant to get the three points at Pittodrie, it was just a pity from our point of view that Dunfermline got a draw at Inverness.
“But hopefully we can finish it off tonight.”
Those back-to-back defeats by Kilmarnock and St Mirren as Hibs began their post split campaign had set nerves jangling but Fenlon refused to panic, adamant his stars had played well enough in both games and were long overdue a break in a match.
It duly arrived at Aberdeen, Dons defender Mark Reynolds turning Griffiths’ cross into his own net before Sean O’Hanlon, playing for the first time in two months, sent a glancing header beyond goalkeeper Jamie Langfield.
Scott Vernon cut the deficit early in the second half but, claimed Soares, Hibs are now a different proposition in difficult circumstances, admitting that earlier in the season such a setback would more than likely have led to a collapse and loss of precious points.
He said: “We got off to a terrific start and finally got the sort of break we’ve been looking for. We haven’t had much luck lately but it was a shot in the arm and then big Sean got the second just ten minutes later.
“But we said at half-time the game wasn’t over. We’d been there before and we knew we had to go back out and finish the job. When they scored we dug in and ground out the result whereas in the past we’d possibly have found ourselves in a bit of trouble and lost points.
“Tonight we just have to go out and do what we have been doingin the last few games. We won’t be looking for a point but all three.”
The visit of Dunfermline is Hibs last home game of the season and presents one final chance to at least put a slightly better sheen on their league record at Easter Road where they have managed just one win.
Soares said: “That’s poor, to be honest. It’s been one of those seasons where it just hasn’t worked for us. It’s strange, we gone to places like Kilmarnock, Motherwell, Inverness, Paisley, Perth and now Aberdeen and won but we’ve not been able to do it at Easter Road.
“I don’t know why that should have been, I think we’d all dearly love to understand it. But hopefully we can do it in front of our own fans tonight. They’ve been fantastic so it would be nice to give them something back and even better to get the three points.”
Scrapping to avoid relegation and yet with the prospect of that historic all-Edinburgh derby against Hearts in the final of the Scottish Cup in less than a fortnight’s time is another strange twist for Hibs.
Fenlon has banned all talk of Hampden with the sole focus on SPL safety but, Soares claimed, having a clutch of meaningful games before then can only help him and his team-mates, regarded as they are by many as underdogs in the “big one”.
He said: “The priority has been the League, staying up is far more important to the club but we are aware Cup final places will be up for grabs, everyone wants to be fit and ready for selection that day.
“You see guys out doing that bit extra after training so there’s going to be plenty of competition. Hopefully we can go into it on a good run and with a few wins under our belts. Perhaps having games which means so much will help. They’ve kept us focused and sharp.”