James Keatings believes tomorrow’s Irn-Bru Cup clash with St Mirren can put the fizz back into Hibs’ season.
After a sparkling start in which they won their first five Championship matches, it’s all gone a bit flat for manager Neil Lennon and his players.
Rather than starting to romp away from the pack as many had predicted, the Easter Road side haven’t won in their past three outings, taking just two points from a possible nine as they’ve found themselves toppled from the top of the table by Queen of the South.
But while all eyes will be on Scotland’s latest World Cup qualifying match against Lithuania at Hampden later in the day, Keatings insisted the entire focus of Lennon’s squad will be on rediscovering that winning habit.
Although some might have welcomed a break thanks to the international schedule, Keatings was adamant that was the last thing he and his team-mates wanted having emerged win-less from encounters with Ayr United, Queens and Dundee United.
The striker said: “When you’ve come off a disappointing the result you want the next game to come around as quickly as possible to try to turn it around.
“We didn’t want two weeks off and the good thing is we have this game straight away to try to get back to winning ways.
“We’re looking forward to it and hopefully we can do what we did in the first half against Dundee United, pass the ball around well and create a few goal-scoring opportunities.
“We all know we are playing well, but we aren’t taking the chances that have come our way.
“We’ve had a few days training well and we’ve prepared for this match as we would any other. We’re looking forward to it and the chance to work things out.”
The arrival of the Championship’s basement club St Mirren, the Buddies without a win in their opening eight league matches and beaten 2-0 by two Jason Cummings’ goals in Paisley in August, would appear, on the face of it, to offer Hibs the ideal opportunity to record a confidence-boosting win.
But after seeing Saints battle back to force a 1-1 draw against Falkirk, their equaliser coming from on-loan Rangers youngster Tom Walsh only three minutes before the final whistle, Keatings insisted Lennon’s players are anticipating a tough match.
Saints were managerless as they secured that precious point against the Bairns but have since appointed Alloa Athletic boss Jack Ross to replace the sacked Alex Rae.
Ross, though, won’t be in the away dug-out at Easter Road, the Wasps insisting he serve out the notice period in his contract which means he’ll be in North Wales tomorrow as Alloa take on Bala Town in the Irn-Bru Cup before taking charge of his new club on Monday.
Keatings, who scored a hat-trick against St Mirren in Paisley last season, said: “I thought that was a bit strange Jack not taking the team after being appointed manager.
“But although he won’t be in Edinburgh tomorrow I’m sure he’ll have been in to speak with the St Mirren players. I’d imagine he’ll already have reports on all of them and will get up-dates from the game in Wales so they’ll be out to impress against us and make sure they are part of his plans from day one.
“I know Jack from my time at Hearts when he was the Under-20s coach and he’s proved at Alloa he’ll be a good manager. Once he’s in the door he’ll be looking to get his football across just as he has at Recreation Park.
“St Mirren might not have won so far, but they stuck to it against Falkirk last week and got their rewards with that late equaliser. We know they have good players but it will be a case of us sticking to our game plan and hope it works out.”
While the Irn-Bru Cup, played for by the teams outwith the Premiership, may be decried in some circles, and while it might not have the same cachet as the Scottish Cup which currently sits proudly in the Easter Road boardroom, Keatings insisted it’s a competition Lennon and his players are taking seriously.
The 24-year-old said: “It meant a lot to Rangers in the past couple of years when they went to the final both times and celebrated winning it last season.
“We want to get to the next round and hopefully go on to win it. People also make a comparison between the League Cup and the Scottish Cup but when it comes to playing in the final of either everyone wants to be there.
“It’s no different for us in the Irn-Bru Cup. We all want to be in finals, to lift trophies and get medals. My personal approach to every game, no matter what competition it may be in, is that I want to win it.
“I’m sure all the boys feel the same, they remember Hampden in May and they want to get back to another final as quickly as possible.”
Keatings also believes the introduction of two clubs from Wales and Northern Ireland has added a little extra spice to the competition, Livingston travelling to take on Northern Ireland champions Crusaders tonight and Alloa away to Bala Town while Forfar entertain The New Saints from the Welsh Premier League tomorrow before Queen of the South wrap up the weekend fixtures by facing Belfast-based Linfield at Palmerston Park on Sunday.
The former Celtic, Hamilton and Hearts forward said: “I think we’d have been happy to have drawn any of the Welsh or Irish sides this time round had it been at home to avoid having to travel.
“But it’s going to be interesting to have them in the competition and good for them to raise their profile a bit in Scotland at the same time.
“I think it adds a bit of freshness to it all. We’re playing St Mirren for the second time already this season and have them again at Easter Road before the month is out so everyone enjoys having someone different to play.
“The four ‘outsiders’ are teams most of us won’t have seen much of and won’t know too much about so if we were to get through against Saints and draw one of them, provided of course, one or more of them progress, it would be something different for us.
“Obviously if that were to happen we’d hope to be drawn at home but the flip side is the fans always like a wee trip and to go somewhere new.
“However, that’s a question for another day, we have to take care of St Mirren first.”