The pressure may be on, but Hibs goalkeeper Conrad Logan insists he and his team-mates can handle the heat as they bid to overcome their 1-0 defeat by Raith Rovers to keep their promotion push on track.
Harry Panayiotou’s header has given the Kirkcaldy club the edge going into tomorrow’s second leg of the Premiership play-off quarter-final, leading Rovers boss Ray McKinnon to question how the Capital outfit, desperate for a return to the top flight, will cope with the weight of expectation riding on their shoulders.
“I think pressure is a funny thing,” mused McKinnon in the wake of his side’s narrow victory at Stark’s Park, “Some people deal with it, some people don’t.
“We will find out ow Hibs deal with it on Saturday. That will be a nervous place, Easter Road, because I am pretty sure they do not want to spend another year in this division. They will be desperate, they might get a bit edgy if they do not get it all their own way.”
But, according to Logan, it will matter little whether or not Hibs get it all their own way, the 30-year-old firmly believes the home dressing-room contains enough character to overcome Wednesday night’s setback to take them through to meet Falkirk in the semi-final double header next week.
As expected Irishman Logan trotted out the observation that, in effect, the tie is only at half-time, with nothing resolved until the second 90 minutes – and possibly more – have come and gone with Hibs now enjoying home advantage on a pitch which will be expected to be more conducive to their style of play than the bobbly surface in Fife.
He said: “No matter how the result had gone the other night, had we won 1-0, drawn 0-0 or, as it turned out, lost 1-0, the tie will only be resolved tomorrow. Obviously we were disappointed to lose, but we regroup and go again. Things always happen in the second leg.”
Panayiotou’s 75th minute winner from fellow substitute Louis Longridge’s corner was the first of only two efforts Raith had on target in the entire match, Hibs having worked Rovers goalkeeper Kevin Cuthbert six times while having 16 shots at goal, statistics which, Logan claimed, suggest Hibs can remain optimistic.
“It had to be him,” sighed the goalkeeper of the on-loan Panayiotou who he knows well from their days together at Leicester City, “Harry is a good lad, a good player, but no matter who scores, you are a bit angry. However, it’s always disappointing to concede from a corner or set play.”
Logan prevented Longridge adding a second, which would have made proceedings tomorrow all the more problematical for Hibs. They were left wondering just how events at Stark’s Park might have unfolded had top scorer Jason Cummings taken the gilt-edged chance John McGinn’s clever pass presented him with just five minutes before the interval, the youngster lofting it over Raith No.1 Kevin Cuthbert and also the bar.
However, Logan insisted the game didn’t revolve around that one incident, saying: “It was one of them. It was a decent opportunity and Jason didn’t take it. But we had other opportunities with which we could probably have done better.
“The good thing, though, is we are creating chances. We did that in our last two games at home and we scored six goals. If you lose a game and create nothing, are wondering how are you going to score then that’s when you start worrying.
“But when you are creating chances you can’t be too down. The pitch at Raith was very dry, not one where you could get the ball down and zip it around. It was always going to be a battle but we had decent possession, created chances. Hopefully we’ll do the same tomorrow and put them away.
“We have very good strikers, there were a couple of lads on the bench who are out-and-out goal-scorers as well so we’ll be looking to convert the chances we make.”
Logan accepted that the home support will possibly be on edge tomorrow, with McKinnon’s players determined to do all they can to heighten the anxiety they’ll be feeling, well aware of the expectations on Hibs. Raith remain the underdogs despite being on a run which Panayiotou’s header extended to 12 unbeaten and knowing one more will take them through to play Falkirk.
And he acknowledged Raith’s achievement, saying: “They’ve done really well, particularly in the latter stages of the season. They’ll be looking to nick something like they did at home. Their goal was probably their first on target but it is a case of us regrouping and kicking on.
“We have plenty of characters in our dressing-room, strong characters, good players who can handle it.”
But Logan also appealed to the Hibs support to play their part by remaining as patient as possible with Raith likely to set up to frustrate and seek to strike on the counter attack.
He said: “If things happen early on for us that would be good, but the game won’t be won in the first five or ten minutes. The fans have been brilliant for us at home, this is such a big club, the expectations are massive. They will be so keen for us to get off to a good start but it is important they stick behind us.
“Even if it’s 0-0 at half-time you have to remember that things change in football in seconds so it is vital that on and off the pitch we remain patient.”