‘You’re going down with the Jambos’ taunted the Hearts fans having already accepted their fate that they’ll be playing Championship football next season.
Relegation is, of course, inevitable but has now been delayed for at least another few days. Gary Locke’s players and their supporters avoided the nightmare scenario of being condemned to the drop by their biggest rivals, their joy heightened at their Capital neighbours’ discomfort as they seemingly hurtle ever closer to that dreaded play-off spot.
Hibs, though, still have a six-point lead over St Mirren, the side currently occupying that spot with only half-a-dozen games remaining, an advantage which, surely, should be enough to see them escape that particular threat.
There again, it’s a danger that can’t be ignored by a team which has won just one of its last 12 Scottish Premiership matches, boss Terry Butcher adamant his players have to get as many points on the board as possible before they can start breathing a little more easily.
And Butcher was equally certain they should have been able to do so in the wake of their trip to Tynecastle, convinced they had been robbed of at least a point by assistant referee Alasdair Ross, who flagged Jordon Forster offside as he rose to power home Lewis Stevenson’s cross, a decision shown to be clearly wrong by television replays.
Forster himself didn’t need to revert to such support, insisting: “I felt I was clearly onside at the time, you can see my reaction.
“I ran away to celebrate and then caught the linesman’s flag. I think the goal should have stood but that sums up a bad day for us.”
Butcher felt momentum was swinging in his team’s favour and that they could well have gone on to win but for Ross’ blunder. “Horrendous,” was the adjective applied by Butcher regarding the assistant’s intervention, the big Englishman adding: “It was a great header, a great goal and it’s been chopped off which it should never have been. It was not even close to being offside. It was unbelievable. At the end of the day, it’s not even marginal so it was really disappointing.”
Hearts manager Gary Locke conceded his side enjoyed a slice of luck at that moment, Dylan McGowan having been guilty of not pushing out quickly enough as Forster charged in to meet Stevenson’s cross. It allowed the Gorgie outfit to retain the lead Dale Carrick had given them in the opening minutes and indeed build on it as Billy King rounded Ben Williams to claim a second in added-on time as Hibs, already handicapped by a late red card for Alan Maybury, left themselves even more short-handed at the back as they sought that elusive equaliser.
It was the second week in succession that referee Steven McLean had sent off a Hibs player, Danny Haynes having been ordered off against St Johnstone. Again, though, Butcher had no complaints, Maybury having been booked earlier for a foul on Sam Nicholson and leaving the official with no alternative but to produce the yellow card again as he pulled down King, who had shown him a clean pair of heels.
He was bitter, though, at that big moment eight minutes from time. He said: “We had momentum at that stage, attacking the end with our fans and we felt if we could get one goal we would perhaps get more and go on to win the game. I don’t think we deserved to lose the game. We had good possession, passed it quite well and our system worked really well.”
Butcher conceded, however, that, having made a slow start in which a goal was again lost all too easily, his side had once more failed to test Hearts goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald often enough.
James Collins, without a goal in his last eight matches and only six to his name this season, squandered a glorious opportunity to cancel out Carrick’s opener before the half-time whistle, skying his shot high over the bar after Duncan Watmore had left him with both time and space to shoot 16 yards out. The Hibs boss had described his attack as “powder puff” seven days earlier and it was again highlighted when Alex Harris who, along with fellow substitute Kevin Thomson brought more composure and poise to their side’s play, clipped in an inviting cross which was just crying out for someone to get on the end of it only to see the opportunity go begging.
Butcher, pictured below, said: “MacDonald did not have the most difficult of afternoons. We did well up to the final third again but it’s the final ball and shots that we do not create. It’s hard to take because we had done well, the boys had worked very hard but we have not done enough to score.
“We need guts and bravery around the edge of the box and to make sure we finish off the moves we have started. The cross for Forster was one of the few. We have to be more clinical and ruthless when it comes to scoring goals – we only had one shot on target in the whole game.”
Hibs’ difficulty in scoring goals is highlighted by the fact that only basement side Hearts, who have played a game less, have scored fewer goals and, while the Easter Road side’s “goals against” column is the best of any of the bottom six clubs, Butcher admitted the number conceded in recent weeks has become as big a concern as the problem his players have in finding the opposition’s net.
He added: “We have gone from being a really difficult team to play against that scores goals from set-pieces and grinds out wins, to a team that does not score and concedes goals. That’s very disappointing and something we will certainly work on.”
Having been a side which only seven days earlier was still clinging onto the hope of a top-six finish for the first time in four seasons, Hibs now find themselves in danger of being sucked into a dogfight with, in the eyes of many, other teams better equipped for that particular battle.
Butcher, however, revealed he hasn’t set any targets as to what might be required to avert that possibility. He said: “I don’t think it will be difficult to pick the players up. We are hurting very much and it’s not as if the boys are flippant. We are certainly not flippant. We owe it to our fans to regain some pride.
“We have the Aberdeen game and then other games thereafter including another derby at home. Six games left in our season and we have to pick up as many points as possible.”