Hibs will depart for a week of sunshine in Dubai on Saturday night, time which will be spent not only preparing for the second half of the season but, according to Steven Whittaker, contemplating just why they find themselves in the bottom half of the Premiership.
The past few months have been a rollercoaster ride, Neil Lennon’s players enduring the ups and downs only inconsistency can bring and the reason why at just past the half-way mark in the 2018/19 campaign, they are well off the pace.
The early-season promise which gave way to a miserable run of seven games without a win returned as they went six unbeaten including three against either side of the Old Firm, only for the fans to be thrown into the depths of despair as Hibs signed off 2018 by going down to their arch-rivals Hearts.
The fact it was only their second league defeat at home in the entire calendar year matters little, the chance to pull tight on to the Jambos’ heels evaporating with one impressive swing of Olly Lee’s left boot, Hibs’ lack of cutting edge all too evident as they struggled to create any clear chances, although Whittaker and Oli Shaw did hit the woodwork.
A lengthy injury list and the absence of Martin Boyle, Mark Milligan and Jamie Maclaren – away on international duty with Australia – obviously didn’t help in this particular instance, even if Hibs passed up the chance to invoke a FIFA ruling and have the match postponed.
However, while revealing Lennon’s players hadn’t been consulted as to whether they thought the game should have gone ahead in the circumstances, Whittaker said there were no excuses.
“Martin is obviously our big threat going forward with his pace. Jamie is a goalscorer and he sniffs things out, so obviously those two in attacking positions were a miss.
“But we managed to win against Celtic without them so it’s no excuse. We have a squad that’s there to be used. The boys are more than capable of scoring and creating chances.”
With or without Boyle and Maclaren, Hibs have lacked a cutting edge throughout the first half of the season, Lennon venting his anger at what he considered as a lack of work-rate from his frontmen, that absence of goals, and defensive lapses, leading to points being frittered away.
Whittaker said: “I think consistency is the thing that’s been lacking from last year. It’s just about trying to find that level of performance, week in, week out, which we’ve struggled to do this year.
“It’s been up and down. We did have a good start and then we had a bad run and then, before coming into this, we were undefeated in five or six. There’s definitely positives in there, but there’s negatives too and it’s that word again: consistency.
“The reasons for that? We all probably have to have a look at ourselves and try to come up with some kind of formula that will allow us to play on a consistent basis.
“We are sitting eighth in the league and we believe we should be higher than that, at least the top six. We feel we are dropping below our standards a little bit but we will go away, take this break and try to come back in a positive frame of mind to push on and try to claw back some points.
“The aim was obviously to finish on a high, take three points and go into the break feeling a little better than we are. But it is what it is, we will go away now and have a warm-weather trip to Dubai.
“We will go away as a group and enjoy it, put in a bit of work and look forward to the second part of the season, stay a bit more consistent and get the points we feel we deserve.”
Whittaker admitted the memory of last season’s second-half efforts that took Hibs to within a whisker of clinching the runners-up spot behind Celtic can help drive him and his team-mates on.
“It’s frustrating not to be in the top six,” he said, “but we are not a million miles away. A few wins and we can get back in there. We had a good return from the games against the Old Firm, we were undefeated in the three games, two draws and a win.
“Livingston in between that was a draw. Again we feel we should be winning those games at home.”
Insisting that also applied to Saturday night’s derby, Whittaker said: “It was a game we felt we should be taking full advantage of and getting the three points.
“Our form was really good in the second part of last year.
“We picked up a lot of points and I think we stayed unbeaten for quite a while home and away. So yes, we can take positives from that and know it can be done.
“It was done last year and we hope we can do it again.”