Goal drought affecting Hibs’ James Collins

James Collins shoots for goal against Ross County. Picture: Ian Rutherford
James Collins shoots for goal against Ross County. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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Mis-firing Hibs striker James Collins has admitted his lack of goals is beginning to mess with his head after drawing a blank for the fifth game in succession.

Collins came closest yet to ending the drought he has endured since his move from Swindon Town, a header which came crashing back off the post with Ross County goalkeeper Mark Brown beaten all ends up.

Close, but not close enough as a lack of goals continues to blight the Easter Road club’s season, just three scored – all by midfielders – in the seven games played when that disastrous excursion into the Europa League is taken into account.

Boss Pat Fenlon has moved to beef up his attack, adding Kilmarnock’s Paul Heffernan to the ranks alongside Collins and Rowan Vine who, like his 22-year-old fellow frontman, has yet to break his duck.

But, undoubtedly, it will be to Collins the Hibs fans look for goals, not least because of the reputed £200,000 price tag, an unheard of fee in the current financial climate in Scotland outwith Celtic and the sort of money with which Hibs haven’t parted since the arrival of big Rob Jones almost a decade ago.

Knowing relatively big money was involved has not, according to Collins, had anything to do with his current predicament, the Republic of Ireland hitman reckoning that side of things was none of his concern while attributing the lack of goals to being down to one of those spells every striker suffers when he wonders if he’s ever going to see the net bulge again.

Agreeing the sight of his header coming back off the post probably summed up his season so far, Collins, who calculates this is his longest ever barren run on arriving at a new club, said: “At the moment it’s just not going for me or any of the other lads in front of goal.

“As a striker you are always under pressure to score goals and, to be honest, it’s playing on my mind. But you just have to try to keep your head down and work hard, which is what I am trying to do.”

Collins admitted he was delighted with the faith Fenlon has shown in him thus far, both for bringing him to Hibs and sticking by him, the Irishman in the build-up to this game adamant that with the right service a forward who scored 18 goals last season will start to do so again, as will Vine and now, presumably, Heffernan. In that regard Hibs’ frontmen have been forced to live off meagre rations in recent weeks, former Easter Road goalie Brown observing afterwards that other than Collins’ header the only save he had to make in the entire 90 minutes was from a Liam Craig free-kick which flew straight into his arms.

Collins said: “I just tried to hit the target and unluckily for me it hit the post. If it is inside the post the keeper was beaten. I try not to beat myself up, but anyone would be lying if they said it did not play on their mind or that you did not think about through the week.

“I think in our last couple of games our wingers (Craig and Danny Handling) have been doing well, but maybe the chances that are coming aren’t falling in the right places. You do need that bit of luck as well.”

Collins now has a fortnight to think things over as the Scottish Premiership takes a break for World Cup qualifying action, a welcome respite as far as he is concerned. He said: “Hopefully it will do me some good. I’ll go away, have a little think about it and come back fresh for St Johnstone.

“The gaffer has shown great faith in me by paying money for me and in playing me, even although it’s not happening for me. I have to thank him for that.”

Fenlon, of course, would gladly accept repayment in the shape of goals with Collins, as is the way with all forwards in such a dark place, convinced all he needs is one goal however it may come. Asked if he felt a “barrowload” might well follow, he said: “It’s been known to be like that, so hopefully that’s the case.”

However, as long as Hibs struggle to score they’ll remain vulnerable, as proved to be the case against Motherwell and Hearts, to falling victim to one moment of genius or error. Luckily however on this occasion they emerged with a point and, probably to goalkeeper Ben Williams’ relief a first clean sheet of the season, although, as far as Staggies boss Derek Adams was concerned, that was more down to County’s profligacy in front of goal with both Rocco Quinn and Graham Carey passing up what their manager described as “gilt-edged” chances to clinch all three points.

Mihael Kovacevic also hit the post while Williams brought off a smart save to prevent Kevin Luckassen scoring in the first half while, as Fenlon lamented, Collins’ header was Hibs only real opportunity of the game although to be fair to the player it wasn’t in the same category as those chances scorned by Quinn and Carey. The Hibs manager said: “We had a lot of possession but we have to be a bit more precise in moving and moving the ball, particularly at home. We seem to be able to do that in away matches. It was a tough game, stop-start with a lot of fouls and free-kicks and with no real rhythm to it.

“We only created one real chance, it was a great ball in and a great header but we didn’t get enough of that kind of service to him. James’ record of scoring goals is very good so we just have to keep plugging way, working hard and come out the other side.”

Hibs have, of course, been hindered by long-term injuries to wide men Paul Cairney and Alex Harris but while their return will be eagerly awaited, Fenlon believes the arrivals of Abdellah Zoubir and Heffernan, which took his summer signing spree into double figures, can add different dimensions, the French kid having impressed hugely during a week-long trial, while the ex-Killie man boasts a record of having scored goals wherever he has gone in a career which has taken him to Notts County, Bristol City, Doncaster Rovers and Sheffield Wednesday.

As far as the Hibs support are concerned, it can’t happen a moment too soon.