Andrew Shinnie admits Hibs are facing their toughest test so far this season following a shock defeat by Ayr United, with a trip to table-topping Queen of the South followed by clashes against the two teams immediately below them in the Championship, Dundee United and Raith Rovers.
But the Easter Road midfielder insisted each of those sides will be just as wary of Neil Lennon’s players, adamant he and his team-mates can prove losing their 100 per cent start to the season to be nothing more than a blip.
And while Ian McCall’s players pitched up in Edinburgh intent on making life difficult for the title favourites, clearly intent on escaping with a point only to leave with all three after Marvin Bartley was sent off, Shinnie believes the next three league games will be far more open affairs, with Hibs’ opponents just as intent on winning as they will be.
The on-loan Birmingham City player said: “The next three games will be tough – but they’ll be tough for them as well. They are going to be interesting, against teams who will fancy beating us and who will play football as opposed to sides who come to Easter Road, sit in and try to nick a goal.
“They will fancy their chances in the league and will want to take points off us as they’ll see us as a threat to those ambitions. These teams will be looking to win games, not hoping for a draw, so they’ll probably be a bit more open, although you need to be mindful of the defensive side of things as well.
“They’ll be right up for the game, but so will we. We’ll be ready to meet the challenge head-on.”
Accepting Ayr’s tactics ultimately paid off, Shinnie was adamant the loss of Bartely – red carded following lunge on United’s Jamie Adams – had a huge bearing on the outcome of the match which, at that point, Hibs were winning as Jason Cummings claimed his eighth goal of the season with a stunning effort from 25 yards out.
Ayr completely turned the game, former Hearts defender Conrad Balatoni heading home from Brian Gilmour’s corner before the midfielder got a goal himself, sliding home Nicky Devlin’s low cross from six yards out. Shinnie, however, believed the Capital side should have been more resilient to have seen the game out even although they were short-handed for the final 20 minutes or so.
He said: “The red card changed the game massively. I was in and around it, but it all happened so quickly. The referee [Nick Walsh] acted pretty sharply so I knew right away he was going for the red card. Marv looked a bit shocked. He’s not the type of player to go in over the ball or anything like that, but I’d need to see it again to say it wasn’t a red card.
“It was disappointing and ultimately it changed the flow of the game. If we’d kept 11 on and taken our chances we might have gone on to get three or four goals but somehow we’ve come away with a defeat.
“To be honest, you couldn’t see it coming as we’d been so dominant. They only got into our box a couple of times but we were punished. That’s what can happen in football but when we go down to ten men we have to do more. It was a bad result.”
All the talk before the match against the Championship newcomers was of Hibs creating a new club record by winning their opening six league games of the first time with some over-optimistic fans even contemplating going the entire season unbeaten given the promising start Lennon’s players had made.
Insisting there was no complacency on show, Shinnie said: “The attitude was spot-on, we went about it the right way but it is difficult when teams come and play so deep.
“We are expected to be winning within ten or 20 minutes. People expect us to be winning comfortably by half-tie and when it doesn’t happen they get a bit nervy. Jason scored with a great strike but we’d dominated the first half, Grant Holt has hit the post and their goalkeeper has pulled off a great save from him after only a couple of minutes.
“So we could easily have been a couple of goals up and if that had been the case we’d probably have gone on to win it.”
Shinnie admitted he felt bitterly disappointed to have let down another bumper Easter Road crowd, the gate for the three home matches so far averaging more than 15,00. He said: “We should have won it for them, they’ve been coming in big numbers and given us great backing. We have to show that this was nothing more than a bad blip.”
However, the 27-year-old said: “We need to keep things in context. Yes, we should have beaten Ayr, but we have had a good start to the season, winning five of our first six matches.
“Obviously the manager wasn’t happy but he talked about what we needed to do better. He didn’t go over the top or go crazy as he recognises we’ve had a good start to the season although that was a bad result. We players weren’t happy either and a few had something to say. But we have a good bunch of boys, we’ll take this one on the chin, pick ourselves up and go again.”
Shinnie agreed Hibs couldn’t get a tougher test of that intention than heading to Palmserton Park and Queen of the South who remain unbeaten with former Easter Road striker Stephen Dobbie an obvious threat having claimed nine goals since returning to the Dumfries club for a second time, his latest two enough to see off Raith at the weekend.
It’s a danger Hibs are well aware of, Dobbie’s first goal second time round for Queens sparking a second half fight back at Easter Road to knock Lennon’s players out of the Betfred Cup.
Shinnie added: “Queens are scoring freely and he’s a top player who is doing really well at the moment so we’ll have to keep an eye on him and try to nullify that danger and the others Queens have, although they’ll be looking out for Jason who is also on fire.”