PAUL HANLON reckons any SPL side runs the risk of suffering as he and his Easter Road team-mates have this week because every team in the league is capable of beating each other.
The Hibs defender admitted his side had dropped their standards as they were crushed by St Johnstone with a performance manager Pat Fenlon branded “unacceptable”. However, Hanlon insists such a fate awaits any side which doesn’t measure up on the day.
The former Scotland Under-21 skipper said: “We dropped our standards against St Johnstone, but it is so close in this league that anyone can beat anyone else. If you drop your standards you will be punished.”
What made the defeat all the more alarming was the fact that while Fenlon’s players have hit a rocky patch following a highly promising start to the season, they have, at least, proved hard to beat as evidenced by the fact that in their previous seven matches they had conceded just three goals.
Hanlon, however, claimed that rather than beat themselves up over what he hopes proves to be no more than a bad day at the office, the players can’t dwell on the events of Monday night. Instead he has urged his colleagues to focus fully on making amends throughout the remainder of the season, starting with today’s trip along the M8 to face St Mirren.
Danny Lennon’s side may be second bottom of the table but they sit just five points behind fifth-placed Hibs and with a Scottish Communities League Cup final against Hearts to look forward to, a clear indication of Hanlon’s contention that the outcome of every match in the SPL these days is virtually impossible to predict.
He did, though, concede that Hibs need to find the consistency which they enjoyed up until a few weeks ago. “There has been a bit of inconsistency just now. We’ve had a few good results followed by poor results,” he said. “Monday night was a big disappointment. We really let the fans down. It was a game at home in front of our own supporters and we have to play better than we did.
“Obviously we have discussed it a bit among ourselves, but there’s no point dwelling on it too much.
“We need to move on. The past few weeks we’ve been defending quite well, keeping clean sheets and only conceding the odd goal. Against St Johnstone, we lost three and didn’t create any decent chances of our own.”
Hibs captain James McPake likened the performance against Steve Lomas’s side to the sort of form the Capital club produced on too many occasions last season as they slumped to an 11th-place finish, their status as an SPL club only secured with a thumping 4-0 victory in the second-last round of fixtures which condemned Dunfermline to relegation.
Hanlon wasn’t for arguing with McPake’s opinion, saying: “If, after losing a goal, you can stay in the game even going into the last minute you have a chance of getting a draw. Losing a second as we tended to do at times last season means it is game over.
“This season we have stayed in games even when we have not played well and got points from them, but obviously it did not work out like that on Monday.”
Two quick-fire goals from Saints’ Rowan Vine had Hibs in trouble at the mid-point of the first half and although goalkeeper Ben Williams maintained his incredible run of penalty saves, stopping Steven MacLean’s spot-kick before the interval, former Easter Road midfielder Patrick Cregg put the game beyond them with a third a few minutes after the restart.
However, Hanlon claimed he did not fear a real drubbing. He said: “I didn’t think they were battering us, but when they got a chance it ended up in the back of the net. They didn’t give us any space in attacking areas and credit to them, it was a job well done, but we don’t want teams to get into that position against us again.”
Earlier in the season Hibs were free-scoring thanks, in the main, to Leigh Griffiths, but too many goals were being conceded. Now the reverse applies, but, Hanlon insists, it is a case of striking the right balance: “It’s easy to blame defenders, but it is our job to keep the opposition out and when they’ve scored three then we haven’t done our job properly.
“But it is a team game. When we are not defending well, we need the strikers to help out with a goal or two and if they are not playing well or getting the chances then it’s up to us to keep clean sheets.”