Hibs defender Darren McGregor today admitted he and his team-mates must take boss Alan Stubbs’ advice and have a long, hard look at themselves after crashing to a fourth successive Championship defeat.
Being beaten by Morton, Dumbarton and Queen of the South in the space of six days wrecked the Easter Road club’s hopes of taking the title and the one automatic promotion place it carries, but losing to Raith Rovers last Saturday has now put a serious question mark against their ability to take second spot and so cut the number of play-off matches they’d face.
Stubbs’ players aren’t back in action until they travel to face St Mirren a week on Saturday, granted a two week break with John McGinn, Liam Henderson and Jason Cummings on international duty, thus presenting Falkirk – who already hold a six point advantage over them in the race for second place – to increase that gap when they play struggling Livingston this weekend.
McGregor believes Hibs must use this period to reflect on what has gone wrong, the part each individual has played and what they can do to get the club back on track.
The lifelong Hibee said: “Our title hopes went with those three defeats and everyone knows second place is now our goal. But it’s more than that, it’s a pride thing to be honest. To lose four games in a row is not acceptable, especially at a club like Hibs, who should be winning most weeks.
“The fans demand it. They come out and show their support and we are letting them down at the moment. That’s the most hurtful thing, letting the fans down.”
McGregor, who admitted Saturday night’s return to the venue where he’d scored his first goal for the club as he set Hibs on their way to a 2-0 Scottish Cup win at Raith at the beginning of January was obviously a far happier occasion than the league match, revealed head coach Stubbs had told his players to have “a look in the mirror” in the aftermath of the defeat at Stark’s Park
He said: “The gaffer made the point that we are not taking our chances. We’re not scoring and we are giving away soft goals.
“As a defender you need to have a bit honesty and look at yourself. Obviously it was very disappointing to go there and blow a chance to claw back some ground on Falkirk.”
Team-mate Lewis Stevenson admitted in yesterday’s Evening News that he had seen this slump coming, claiming that while the side had been picking up results, they hadn’t been playing particularly well. And McGregor agreed, saying: “We need to show a bit of character and bounce back because we are certainly not playing with the same intensity as we were maybe a month ago.
“It’s something we have lost and it’s hindering us. We need to do things more quickly on the pitch and that needs to change quickly. No disrespect to Raith Rovers, but we have, I would say, higher quality players than them, so to be beaten by them says they have more than us in other departments, which is very worrying.”
Hibs have, of course, endured a punishing schedule of matches in recent weeks as they fought on three fronts, while their current results in the league contrast with those they’ve achieved against Premiership sides in cup competitions, their record reading played eight, won five, drawn two and lost one.
McGregor said: “We have had a lot of games, a lot of mentally draining games as well, but we should be able to with that. We have a relatively young squad. There’s only a couple of us, myself included, who are 30, so we have to be able to deal with it.
“We should be able to go to places like Kirkcaldy, keep it tight at the back and come away with a 1-0 win. But we are not doing that and it needs to be addressed.
“Obviously our record against Premiership teams has been good, but these big games tend to take care of themselves. Playing at Stark’s Park on a Saturday night, goings away to Dumbarton, visiting Cappielow on a Tuesday night ... these are the games that win you titles, but in the last month it’s those matches that have let us down.”
McGregor agreed there was an argument that the international break has come at just the right time for him and his team-mates to analyse what had gone wrong and to recharge their batteries before facing a gruelling schedule of matches in April. They will play their final eight league games – including home encounters with both Rangers and Falkirk – and their Scottish Cup semi-final against Premiership basement side Dundee United, who they beat earlier in the season on their way to the League Cup final.
But the former Cowdenbeath, St Mirren and Rangers player believes Stubbs’ players can prove during that month that they have put recent troubles behind them. He added: “Nine games in a month is definitely a test of character, but that’s what it is all about when you come to a club like Hibs.
“You expect your character to be tested. Obviously there are question marks at the minute, but I am hoping that come April we can show the fans and ourselves that we have the bottle.
“People ask if we have it because we have lost four on the trot, but no-one is hurting more than us. We need to show more character and courage to get back to winning ways as quickly as possible.”