Andrew Shinnie believes Hibs would find it easier playing in the Premiership than the Championship where they are the scalp every other team wants to take.
Such is the expectation on the Easter Road outfit this season that their recent run of five win-less matches has attracted a huge amount of attention even though they finished the first quarter of the season at the top of the table before extending their lead to three points with last weekend’s 3-1 victory at Dunfermline.
Shinnie believes that win at East End Park could prove the turning point in Hibs’ season but, he insisted, results prior to that match merely underlined the fact that Neil Lennon’s players – contrary to some predictions – were never going to have the title wrapped up by Christmas and with it an automatic promotion place.
Such claims were given a fair degree of credibility after Lennon’s team won their first five league games before they failed to win in their next four while today’s visitors St Mirren added to a sudden sense of frailty by knocking them out of the Irn-Bru Cup in Edinburgh at the beginning of the month.
Shinnie, on a season-long loan from English Championship outfit Birmingham City, said: “We started so well and I think everyone on the outside thought ‘they’ll win most games, they’ll cruise the league, it’s too easy’.
“A few people said it would be wrapped up by Christmas, that we’d do it unbeaten. But it’s not easy playing against these teams. It sounds funny, but they raise their game to play against us, they want to challenge themselves against us and prove they can beat us.
“We are the biggest team in the league so we have to be able to cope with that because it’s going to happen most weeks.
“Teams coming to play us have no pressure really, people expect them to lose so they’ve got a free hit. If they get anything out of the game they’ve done well, if they don’t people will say ‘Hibs should have beaten you anyway’.
“It’s a lose-lose situation for us. If we don’t win we get heavily criticised and if we do win them, we’ll, we’re expected to win.
“The manager says that’s the expectation here, we have to cope with that if we want to play for Hibs.”
Rather than be confronted by teams intent on making life as difficult as possible for him and his team-mates while hoping to hit on the break, Shinnie insisted life in the top flight would prove less problematical as the opposition would tend to be more open.
He said: “As weird as it sounds, I think it is more difficult for us to play in the Championship. If we were in the top league teams would think they could come and beat us and come to attack us.
“But in the Championship teams will sit in, frustrate us and our fans, make us suffer a bit and then they’ll catch us on the counter.
“We have to find ways to break them down whether it’s crosses in the box, playing through them or over the top, whatever it is. We need to find a way to win the league and get promoted, that’s all we can do.”
Shinnie admitted he and his team-mates have had to develop a thick skin as the flak has been directed at them again, he insisted, an indication of the expectation with which Lennon’s players are burdened.
The 27-year-old, recalling his experiences playing for Inverness Caley, said: “We used to go to Ibrox and Parkhead, places like that, and think ‘let’s just go out an play’.
“We would give it our best shot, frustrate them and try and nick a win. We managed to do that, I think we beat Rangers at Ibrox and Celtic at Parkhead.
“But I began to realise how difficult it was for those players because every week at clubs like Celtic, Rangers, Hibs and Hearts, you have to win or you get heavily criticised. It’s different being on the other side of that now.
“Possibly at Inverness, even although we were really good in the second year I was there, we weren’t really expected to win our games so we went out, attacked teams and got results.
“But here, every week, people think we should have games wrapped up by half-time and, if we haven’t, then we’re playing terrible.” Despite their hiccup, Shinnie pointed out that, in fact, Hibs had lost only one league game thus far but admitted the win over the Pars had brought “a wee bit of relief”.
He said: “When you haven’t won in a few weeks you are always just wanting that win to come. At a club like this when you are not picking up the results it’s a test of character for everyone.
“Everyone highlighted it as a really bad run. We weren’t scoring so in terms of that it wasn’t a great run, but it wasn’t horrendous. We weren’t losing four on the bounce.
“But it was a big win last week because if we hadn’t won it would have kept people highlighting it.
“It was a test being 1-0 down, but we came out in the second half and showed what we are all about.”