Mark Oxley today insisted he and his team-mates won’t be wallowing in self-pity as they aim to put their Scottish Cup heartbreak behind them by setting their sights on winning promotion to the Premiership.
Like the rest of Alan Stubbs’ squad, the Hibs goalkeeper looked shell-shocked as he emerged from their Hampden dressing-room, barely able to comprehend how a place in the cup final had slipped from their grasp, Craig Sibbald’s goal 15 minutes from time having allowed Falkirk to mount a smash-and-grab raid to snatch it from them.
Ultimately, the Capital club had paid the price for failing to take any of the numerous chances which had fallen their way during a match they’d dominated from virtually first minute to last although the Bairns also enjoyed a slice of luck as Fraser Fyvie and then Scott Allan saw efforts crash back off the woodwork.
The defeat left Stubbs’ players and the 17,000 Hibs fans who had followed them along the M8 stunned and bewildered. But, Oxley declared, there’s no time to dwell on what might have been, adamant that tomorrow night’s Championship clash with Livingston can be the ideal pick-me-up as Hibs seek to take the race for second place down to the wire.
Rivals Rangers extended their advantage in that particular battle to four points with a 3-1 win at Dumbarton but Hibs have this game in West Lothian in hand and from which only the maximum three points will suffice.
While Hibs have beaten Mark Burchill’s side three times already this season, they are also aware Livingston are enjoying something of a resurgence, sensing they can not only escape the automatic relegation spot which looked certain to be theirs only a few weeks ago but the play-off position as well.
However, as far as Oxley is concerned it’s all about what Hibs do. The on-loan Hull City player said: “Promotion has been our target all season although we obviously know how much the cup means to the fans and how much it means to the lads as well.
“But we’ve put ourselves in the position in the league where we have important matches coming up, it’s not as if we’re sitting mid-table and can just let the season fizzle out. Every game from now on in is a big one and that’s something you look forward to as a player, being involved in such matches.
“As gutted as we are by what happened at Hampden it’s an experience we have to use in the games coming up to make sure we are not in that position again. The next three games and the play-off matches which will follow will be huge, we need to win them, to grasp that opportunity and make sure we do it.
“Our play-off position is already secured but we want to take second place as it cuts down the number of games you have to play once the regular season is over. So it is important we bounce back, we cannot have a hangover. We have to treat these next three games as if they were semi-finals and pick up maximum points.
“Sometimes football can be horrible. We were all buzzing last week having won the derby and going into the cup semi-final only to get a kick up the backside. There’s no point moaning about it, though. It’s gone and now we have to look to go again tomorrow night.”
While crashing out of the cup would always hurt, Oxley admitted the pain felt was even deeper given the performance Hibs had produced on the day although he agreed that if Hibs had taken their chances then Sibbald’s header would have counted for little.
He said: “Perhaps it would have been a little easier to take if we felt we had deserved to lose. But it was so hard to take, we couldn’t believe the amount of chances we created. We played well, never really looked in danger and we were sucker-punched.”
Recalling the first of those opportunities, Falkirk defender David McCracken’s clearance crashing back off the chest of his goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald with Hibs striker Farid El Alagui’s improvised header as he lay prone on the ground not carrying enough power to beat the former Hearts player who also saw Fyvie’s shot fly off the post and rebound into his arms, Oxley said: “Sometimes you can feel it’s not going to be your day.
“But we kept creating chances. We dominated the game, hit the post, hit the bar, I don’t think there was anything else we could have done but hit the back of the net.”
And that, as jubilant Falkirk manager Peter Houston pointed out, was the most important statistic of the day and exactly was the Bairns managed to do.
Oxley agreed with Stubbs’ assertion that his side need to be more clinical in front of goal, an observation that’s been made more than a few times this season but with the Championship’s top scorer Jason Cummings to call upon along with Farid El Alagui, back from a seven month lay-off after rupturing his Achilles tendon but not yet at peak fitness, Dominique Malonga and Franck Dja Djedje, the 24-year-old is confident Hibs can find the goals the need.
Oxley, who scored what proved to be the winner against Livingston on the opening day of the season, said: “The good thing about football is you always have another game coming up. We are in the happy position of having big games to play.
“We’ll pick ourselves up and make sure we are in the right frame of mind. I’m sure if we play as well as we did at Hampden and put some of the chances we create away then we can finish the season well.”