Jack Ross reveals 'extra buzz' in Hibs squad after coming through tense quarter-final battle
Jack Ross would not completely condone the kind of scuffle that broke out at the end of Saturday’s cup tussle with Motherwell, especially as it will cost him the option of Alex Gogic in the Scottish Cup semi-final after the Cypriot international picked up a second yellow card for his involvement.
But, the Hibs boss says it did illustrate the fight in his players and their togetherness as they stepped in to protect each other and their ambitions.
Confident in the team spirit and togetherness that has been cultivated over the season, that unity is what has taken them to the brink of one of the club’s most successful seasons in decades, with European football and semi-final placings to boast of and the even greater prizes of a top-three finish and silverware still to play for in the final four or five matches of the season.
Ross has also witnessed the rise in individual and collective belief, which was, he says, bolstered further by the way they came through last weekend’s testing cup clash.
Two goals up and well on top for long spells of the game, they had to summon up deep wells of resolve to hang in there when Motherwell levelled the scoreline and assumed the momentum. But, having held their nerve and come through the penalty shoot-out victorious, their boss believes that experience can be added to the reservoir of positive memories they may have to draw on in the coming few weeks.
“We have tended to be a brilliant team when we have been ahead,” said the Hibs boss, well aware that his men have never lost from a winning position this season. “We have dropped points, obviously, but not lost and, I think, that goes against the common perceptions.
“So, while I wouldn’t have wanted the match to go like that, in a strange way it gives the players that extra little buzz, knowing they had it within them to handle Motherwell coming back at them.
“They had to withstand a tough and anxious spell but then they got to penalties and came out on the right side of it.
“Because we have had those two semi final defeats this season and they were sore moments for us, very sore, it was good for us to have all felt what it was like to come through that tension on the winning side. I think they all enjoyed it because it was enjoyable...eventually!
“We have worked hard to foster a winning mentality and turn us into a winning team and when you get that and you know that the players and staff have bought into that then they don’t just switch that off. We have improved a lot this season and we want to keep pushing the boundaries and see how far we can go. I think the players are in that flow now.”
With three league games and a maximum of two cup matches remaining before the curtain falls on a crazy, tough and draining season, both mentally and physically, there can be no drop-off in effort, and Ross believes that can help see them over the line.
“It is like a marathon and, although I have never run a marathon, I would imagine there will be stages of the race when people feel like stopping but when you push through, then you can start to kick a bit. We spoke about it and this is like the home straight and we see it as our time to kick and there is no better feeling than kicking and knowing that there is something left in the tank and something left to challenge for. But this is a long home straight because we have the league and the cup, so we still have to dig deep but we can see the finish line and we are all pushing for it.”
Arguably finding their best form of the campaign, as a team and individually, Ross, in his first full season at the helm, has overseen a change in outlook and status at a club that was loitering dangerously close to the foot of the table when he took over.
“We knew that this is a massive time for us. We are continually telling them that this is the biggest game of the week, or the biggest week of the season but they have responded and they know that with, hopefully, five games remaining, every game matters.
“The rewards around each of the games at this stage are massive and I think that helps because no-one can switch off, we all know we have to maintain this level of intensity.
“It has actually helped to normalise the kind of intensity we need to go and earn our rewards.”
Keen to mould a club that has, arguably, underachieved into one of the most consistent, main players in the Scottish game, the title of best of the rest is tantalisingly close and could be claimed on Saturday if they can better Aberdeen’s result against Livingston when they play host to St Johnstone in Leith. Even matching it would all but see them realise their pre-season ambitions given their far superior goal difference.
“That’s what you do when you put together a squad, you try to pick players who can deal with the challenge mentally and physically. This is a tight squad and tight staff and we have all been heavily engaged in delivering under that continued pressure.
“But, I have spoken to a lot of the players and staff this week and there is that sense of excitement and positivity around the training ground.
“That’s why we are all involved in the game because we all want to experience good times and this is a good time but it is now about making it a brilliant time and an historic time. We want this to be a memorable season and that is what is driving us on.”