Hibs face going into Saturday’s clash with Dundee United as the SPL’s lowest scoring side, the early torrent of goals from Garry O’Connor drying up with only two netted in their last six League matches.
But while agreeing a return of just 16 goals from 18 matches tells part of the story of why the Easter Road outfit find themselves languishing at the bottom of the table, ex-Hibs star Keith Wright today insisted it’s only a matter of time before the opposition nets start to bulge again.
Wright knows from bitter experience there are times when any team feels they are never going to score again – just as there are spells when the goals look as if they are never going to stop coming. And while the current lack of goals piles on the pressure to take chances when they present themselves, Wright believes the secret is to simply relax and do what comes naturally.
He said: “It is hard, but it is something that happens when you are down there. When the team is going well and you miss a chance you think ‘so what’ because you know you’ll put the next one away.
“However, when you are struggling a bit you tend to snatch at things, take Leigh Griffiths’ chance against Rangers or even Akpo Sodje’s opportunity at Aberdeen. I’d bet that if the team was winning, both of them would have gone in.
“I’ve been through it all myself. There were times during my six years with Hibs when I’d be a bit apprehensive before games, telling myself I needed to score. You know you shouldn’t be, it just puts more pressure on you but you are just so desperate to get that goal.
“That’s what happens when you are near the bottom of the pile. You go out there hoping the ball will hit off your backside, go in and lift the weight off your shoulders.
“The other side of the coin is that when things are going well everything seems to end up in the back of the next and you can’t wait for the next game to come along. Your confidence is up, you know you are going to score rather than trying to make sure only to end up missing.”
A dearth of goals does, of course, put extra responsibility on defenders who, well aware of the problems at the other end of the park, realise one mistake, one slip can prove costly.
Wright, though, argued it was important teams don’t become over-reliant on too few players for goals, the current drought coinciding with O’Connor, other than his strike in the abandoned match at Motherwell, having failed to score since netting a double against St Johnstone at the end of September.
He said: “Defenders find themselves under great scrutiny if the team isn’t scoring, every mistake, every slip they make is highlighted rather than one which might have come in a 2-1 win. That puts even more pressure on them, they don’t want to be the one to make a mistake. It’s a horrible situation to be in but you have to be brave, to get yourself through these periods and realise wins will come again – although that can’t happen quickly enough.
“It helps when you have regular goalscorers rather than relying on just one or two players. Garry O’Connor is a confident lad but you can’t just look for a moment of brilliance from him every week.
“If your main striker is off form you need others chipping in, guys like Pat McGinlay, Mickey Weir and Michael O’Neill who we could look to for a few goals every season.”
New boss Pat Fenlon may still be seeking his first point as Hibs manager but Wright believes that despite a lack of success so far, the early signs are promising.
He said: “The new manager has been in for a few weeks now, the players will have been getting used to him and his way of doing things while he’ll have been getting to know each of them. There have, I believe, already been improvements, the application of the players has definitely been better but it is a results-driven business. I think, though, there are signs of hard work being done on the training ground.
“There was a great set play at Aberdeen which got Martin Scott round at the back post for a volley which was well saved. Set plays are so important so I am sure plenty of work will be getting done to get the likes of Scott, Sean O’Hanlon and others on the end of things.
“The boys also got a lot of praise for the way they had played at Motherwell but unfortunately that game was abandoned when they were in the lead which was very unlucky.
“Who knows how things might have gone since had that match gone to a finish and Hibs had won. All you need are a couple of results, just look at what has happened to Aberdeen.
“Things can change very quickly, a couple of wins at Tannadice and then against Inverness Caley before the derby can put a totally different complexion on things.”
To that end, Wright admitted he wished he could still pull on his boots and give his old club a hand this weekend, three of the six top flight hat-tricks he scored in his career having come against United, two of them in a green-and-white jersey.
Those hat-tricks, incredibly, came in successive matches with the Tayside outfit, Wright netting all three at Tannadice in mid-April 1993 and then another treble on Hogmanay that year in a 4-0 win at Easter Road, a game which only his second of the season following a lengthy lay-off through injury. He recalled: “United were one of my ‘lucky teams’. They were always difficult games with the likes of David Narey, Maurice Malpas, Paul Hegarty, Dave Bowman and so on. United were always well organised but they were good games.
“I’d also scored a hat-trick against them in a Dundee derby when I was at Dens Park which always earned me some extra boos from their fans but they were games I enjoyed.
“I remember the hat-trick at Tannadice in particular, It was a midweek match, we hadn’t been doing too well, were near the bottom of the League and so it was a ‘must win’ game.
“To score a hat-trick was great but it was a huge win for us and the following weekend we went out and beat Celtic 3-1 at Easter Road.”
Thanks to the internet those are moments Wright can still enjoy today as his five-year-old son Harry quizzes him about his playing days. He said: “People at school have been telling him I played for Hibs so he’s been coming home asking to see the games. The laptop comes out and he looks up the goals.
“There’s some games he comes across I’d rather he didn’t see, so I just suggest that we bring up the Skol Cup final.”