Hibs skipper James McPake today urged his fellow defenders to “get back to basics” after the Easter Road club shipped nine goals in just 180 minutes of football.
Only a week ago, McPake was reflecting on the renewed sense of optimism engendered by successive clean sheets — the first time Hibs had achieved such a feat in a year — but Pat Fenlon’s side were left shattered as they were crushed 5-0 by champions elect Celtic.
It was Hibs’ worst defeat at home since 1985, but a further four goals were conceded midweek as the Capital outfit lost a thriller against Motherwell at Fir Park, taking the total conceded by Hibs over the course of the season to 54 — an average of two in every SPL game played so far.
McPake admitted both Celtic and Motherwell had got their goals far too easily, but despite the setbacks which have left Hibs locked in a desperate battle with Dunfermline to avoid relegation, the former Livingston star insisted no “massive cloud” had descended on Easter Road.
However, while agreeing it had been a disappointing week, the 27-year-old insisted Fenlon’s squad could take heart from the fact they’d managed to score three times themselves, despite losing out in that seven-goal thriller in Lanarkshire.
The on-loan Coventry City stopper said: “Motherwell are possibly the second in-form team in the League at the moment and to go there, play attacking football and score three goals was great. But the way we gifted them goals was disappointing.
“We are having to work hard to score goals but, unfortunately, Motherwell didn’t have to work as hard to get theirs. Michael Higdon’s overhead kick was a good goal, but we defended poorly.
“The buck stops with the centre-backs and defence. We have to hold our hands up and do better.”
McPake admitted he was at a loss to explain just how Hibs fortunes had turned again so dramatically in the space of a few days, after the shut-outs claimed against Kilmarnock and Aberdeen had appeared to have provided a springboard for Fenlon’s side to begin pushing themselves clear of trouble.
He said: “Realistically, going into a game with Celtic you’d never say ‘there’s three points’. But to lose in the manner we did was disappointing. Motherwell was a weird one, you come away with nothing but in your head you feel you did okay.
“We’d had a go and didn’t look like a team at the bottom of the League. We played some nice stuff, but we are upset at the way we are losing goals.”
Although convinced Hibs have the firepower to get the goals they need, McPake conceded a balance needed to be struck, agreeing the continual concession of avoidable goals was neutralising the threat carried by the club’s strikeforce, described by Motherwell boss Stuart McCall as possibly the league’s best out with that of Celtic’s Gary Hooper and Anthony Stokes.
He said: “I don’t think there’s a massive cloud over the place. We still know it’s in our hands, we know we can score goals and we know we can keep clean sheets. But we need to find that balance, getting back to the basics of defending, nothing fancy just putting the head on things and clearing the ball when it needs to be cleared.
“Do that and I am sure we will be okay.”
While Fenlon has spoken on several occasions of hauling other clubs into the danger zone, his Dunfermline counterpart Jim McIntyre insists the fight is between just Hibs and the Pars, and for the moment, McPake believes that should be the entire focus for him and his team-mates.
He said: “Every game is a Cup final, every point is crucial. These are high-pressure games but we have to be man enough, big and strong enough to go into these matches thinking we can win and not doubt ourselves. We have to believe everywhere we go we can pick up points until the end of the season. We have to make sure we keep in front of Dunfermline. There are still a lot of games to go and while it would be great to pull another couple of teams into it, at the minute, we can’t look any further than getting points for Hibs.
“We know we are level on points with Dunfermline and they are battling just as hard as we are. Things can change any week but we have to keep pushing ourselves in trying to get those points.”
Fenlon surprised more than a few when he immediately made McPake captain in the continuing absence of club skipper Ian Murray, but while agreeing to take the armband at this particular time perhaps put added responsibility on his shoulders, the stopper insisted it is a challenge he’s relishing.
He said: “It’s something I enjoy. I did it at Livingston, which is on a lower scale than Hibs, and at Coventry, when our captain was injured, so I know the pressures and expectations it brings.
“It is a responsibility, but if someone asked me if I’d rather not be captain, I’d say I’d rather be captain, looking to lead by example more than anything else.”