Hibs goalkeeper Ross Laidlaw believes fan-power can help drive the Easter Rod outfit to the Championship title after an astonishing crowd of almost 16,500 turned out for new boss Neil Lennon’s first home league match.
Laidlaw admitted he and his team-mates were taken aback at the attendance, the biggest in Scotland on the day and one which coincided with Hibs’ first 3pm kick-off at home since January 23, an incredible 203 days earlier.
But, he insisted, the fans played their part in helping Neil Lennon’s players overcome a second-half wobble as on-loan Hearts striker Gavin Reilly cancelled out the own goal from Pars defender Ben Richard-Evertson which had given the Capital side a half-time lead.
Reilly’s strike was a sharp reminder of events of only a few days earlier when Hibs had surrendered a one-goal lead against Queen of the South before crashing out of the Betfred Cup, beaten 3-1 having, as they did against Dunfermline, passed up a clutch of chances to have increased their advantage.
Laidlaw said: “It had been a disappointing result during the week, so to be able to bounce back and get another three points was great. The fans turned out in their numbers despite that setback and were right behind us when the game went to 1-1. I think that helped us to keep going, that spurred us on to get that second goal through Jason Cummings.
“I thought we’d dominated the first half, missed a few chances just like a few nights earlier and Jason has seen a header come off the post. Then we conceded a poor goal. But we didn’t crumble, we stood strong and ground out the win. We’re going to get nervy games like that.
“When I was at Raith you looked at the fixtures, for the games against Rangers, Hibs and Hearts. Now Hibs are the big team in the Championship and other teams are going to look forward to coming here. It’s a great stadium, the crowds will be bigger than anywhere else in this league, so I’m sure that will help inspire opposition teams to come and raise their game against us.
“The manager warned us during the week that will happen. We are the scalp they’ll all want, so we have to be able to lift our game and be a step above them.”
Laidlaw’s assertion that opposing teams and their supporters will relish coming to Easter Road was, he insisted, backed by the fact Dunfermline brought more than 1200 of their own fans at the weekend, the Pars having marked their return to the Championship with a win against Dumbarton and travelling to Edinburgh obviously hopeful of claiming another victory.
He said: “Dunfermline brought a good support and that made for a good atmosphere which, in turn, made for a good game of football. I was expecting a bit of stick from them having been at their big Fife rivals but I don’t think they recognised me so I escaped having them on my back when I was at that end of the ground.”
Saturday’s gate was swelled by the fact Hibs had sold 10,800 season tickets, the second highest ever total and that, insisted Laidlaw, was not only remarkable for a club now in it’s third season in the second tier of Scottish football but a sign that supporters are being tempted back with that historic Scottish Cup triumph certainly a major factor.
The 24-year-old said: “This is a big, big club and I think the crowd showed everybody just how big. It was brilliant. The boys have been saying that having won the Scottish Cup they were hoping the crowds would be bigger. There’s a good, positive vibe around the club. They boys are doing well and the fans are coming out to watch them.
“But it’s a two-way thing, we do the business on the park and the fans will keep coming.”
The atmosphere around Easter Road today is palpably different to that which engulfed the Edinburgh club little more than two years ago as they plummeted like a stone to a relegation, a scenario which had been totally unthinkable when then boss Terry Butcher had taken over from Pat Felon only a few months earlier.
Laidlaw, who was in goal for Raith as they pulled off a shock Scottish Cup win at Easter Road as Hibs season began to unravel back then, said: “Obviously it was a huge surprise to everyone to see Hibs relegated, no-one expected it. But now there’s been a real reconnection between the fans, the players and the club.
“For players the facilities at East Mains are fantastic, we have a great stadium to play in and there’s a lot of excitement with the club having won the Scottish Cup at last and the new manager coming in.
“Starting the season by winning our first two games is promising, everything is positive. We are all striving for the same thing. Winning the Cup was terrific but we’ve had to focus again on the fact we are all going for promotion. The fans want it, the players are desperate for it.”
And, insisted Laidlaw, having a large support home and away can only help Lennon’s players achieve that objective. Almost 2000 Hibs fans watched their side win a tricky opening day fixture away to Falkirk and the club’s allocation of just 1600 for this weekend’s trip to face St Mirren in Paisley is certain to sell-out.
Laidlaw said: “It’s great to have so many supporters coming out every week to cheer us on, it’s brilliant. They made themselves heard at Falkirk and helped us get the win at what is a difficult ground to do to and I’m sure they’ll be just as vocal again on Saturday when, hopefully, we can make it three wins out of three.”