Hibs couldn’t buy a win against Ross County last season, but as far as Owain Tudur Jones was concerned, he just couldn’t lose to the Dingwall outfit.
Five times the towering midfielder lined up against Derek Adams’ side and each time he emerged unbeaten, winning three of those encounters. In fact, the only time Inverness Caley lost to their near neighbours, in the final game of the season, Welsh internationalist Tudur Jones was ruled out through injury.
As the 28-year-old enjoyed those battles against a team who were then the newcomers to the top flight of Scottish football, Hibs boss Pat Fenlon was left scratching his head as the Capital club were beaten by the Staggies in all three meetings.
Today Tudur Jones admitted he hopes his arrival at Easter Road will, at least, signal a change in Hibs’ fortunes against the Highland outfit, tomorrow’s clash between the clubs offering Fenlon’s players the chance to finally kick-start a season which, up until last weekend’s victory over Kilmarnock, had proved to be nothing short of bitterly disappointing.
He said: “From a personal point of view, I played Ross County five times and wasn’t on the losing side once, so hopefully I can provide that little bit of luck for Hibs, although I don’t think anyone will have last season’s results playing on their minds.
“That’s the way it can work from season to season, there are teams which seem to have a hex over you. Ross County couldn’t beat Caley for love nor money and we could see how much that hurt them because they were our nearest rivals. But at the same time, in every match Caley played against Motherwell they seemed to knock three, four and five goals past us.”
Rather than over-concern himself about County, Tudur Jones insisted he and his new team-mates are focused entirely on building upon their win at Rugby Park, his fellow midfielder Liam Craig scoring twice as Fenlon’s players fought back after going behind to a wonder strike from Killie new boy Barry Nicholson. The former Swansea City and Norwich City player said: “When you see someone score a goal like that against you there can be the tendency when you are on a bad run to think ‘why does it happen to us’, but we dealt with it. We felt we were pretty much in control of the game before that happened and we didn’t let going behind affect us and at the end of the day we felt we were pretty worthy winners.
“It’s taken us longer than we all wanted and certainly expected to get our first win, but that made it all the sweeter when it did come and hopefully it’s the kick-start we really needed.”
Pressure had been steadily building on Fenlon and his players, stoked by that Europa League humiliation by Swedish side Malmo which, Tudur Jones believes, prompted the majority of observers to look only at the final scoreline in the opening two Premiership matches against Motherwell and Hearts rather than the entire 90 minutes of both games.
A draw against Dundee United helped ease the nerves ever so slightly, but Tudur Jones said: “I think we were unlucky to be beaten in them, although we also probably did not create loads and as such wouldn’t have been completely worthy winners in either. There wasn’t much in either of them and going into the Killie game we were certainly under a fair bit of pressure to get our season going.
“Then we had the disappointment of going a goal behind, but showed a little bit of character to get back to winning ways.”
Now the aim for Tudur Jones and his team-mates is to collect another three points against Ross County, particularly with domestic competition taking a break to make way for the latest rounds of World Cup qualifying matches.
The 6ft 3in midfielder said: “We know we have quality in our squad, but any team in this division is capable of going on a little run which can see you quickly climb the table.
“The next stage for us is to get some kind of form going at home, to make sure Easter Road is a bit of a fortress, somewhere we want to play and enjoy playing, that by playing well we’ll have the supporters coming in with us giving them plenty to shout about by firing on all cylinders.”
Like Hibs, Ross County got a massive lift by beating St Mirren last weekend having lost all three of their opening games, only to be knocked out of the Scottish Communities League Cup by Stranraer in midweek. That, Tudur Jones insisted, won’t change the approach Fenlon’s players take to tomorrow’s match.
He said: “By all accounts they beat St Mirren quite comfortably, something they’d have seen as a key moment in getting their season started. They’d have gone down to Stranraer hoping to build a bit of momentum, but went home with their tails between their legs.
“We know they have players of quality who can hurt us, but instead of worrying about them it is important we stamp our authority on the game.”
Tudur Jones picked out County skipper Richie Brittain and fellow midfielders Stuart Kettlewell and Rocco Quinn as threats, but believes Hibs have plenty in that area of the park to keep them quiet and so provide a platform for their own forward-going players to cause the opposition problems.
And while strikers Rowan Vine and James Collins have yet to get a goal, he expressed plenty confidence in the pair getting off the mark soon. He said: “We’ll have to keep close to Brittain, Kettlewell and Quinn and make sure we come out on top in that area. If we are going forward then Rowan and James will get goals, no doubt about it.
“Rowan was unlucky to have one disallowed last week and he got an assist for Liam’s first goal, but as long as they are causing defenders problems then that is all we can ask.
“Sometimes it takes a bit of time to settle in to a new team, a new squad, but I’m sure both will be hoping to score sooner rather than later.”
Tudur Jones admitted that he himself, as one of eight signings by Fenlon, has taken time to find his feet, but, again, he believes the signs are that it is all starting to come together, as Craig suggested earlier in the week. He said: “It’s been a bit stop-start for me, we’ve had little tweaks in different formations, stuff like that, and it hadn’t quite happened for us until last Saturday.
“I haven’t been pleased with the way it went for me in the first four of five games, including Europe, but you get to a stage in life, in your career, where you think you cannot worry about it too much. It has a negative impact if you worry too much about not playing well. Sometimes you can try too hard and that takes away from your natural game.
“You want to do well, but it’s not always going to happen, so you have to keep believing in yourself and your team-mates and it will come good.
“I was pleased with my game overall last week. I got involved going forward, but in terms of stopping them playing, getting on top in midfield, I though Tom Taiwo and myself did well and helped provide the platform for the rest of the team going forward.
“I’m certainly enjoying my time here and the more games we win, the more pleasing it will be.”