HIbs face another crucial week after weekend collapse

Heckingbottom remains defiant as Easter Road men let two-goal lead slip

By David Hardie
Tuesday, 29th October 2019, 6:00 am
Daryl Horgan shows his dejection at full-time
Daryl Horgan shows his dejection at full-time

Bon Jovi’s “Keep the Faith” played away in the background after the final whistle had sounded at Easter Road, the choice a plaintive cry as, clearly, a growing number of Hibs fans are rapidly losing their belief in Paul Heckingbottom’s side.

Yes, there’s a Betfred Cup semi-final against Celtic to look forward to (if that’s the right wording), but now with a run of nine league matches without a win, it’s the threat of relegation which is exercising their minds rather than the thought of glory at Hampden.

Adding hugely to their concerns is the fact Heckingbottom’s players have contrived to surrender a winning position in each of their last five games and, in the process, have thrown away a staggering 11 points. It doesn’t need an Albert Einstein to figure out just how differently the Premiership table would look today, but to save you the bother, Hibs would be sitting comfortably in third rather than a point off the bottom.

Sign up to our Hibs football newsletter

“It’s not nice,” admitted Heckingbottom on hearing the supporters calling for his head, the enthusiasm and expectations for the new season with “Hecky at the wheel” backed by a slew of summer signings and the arrival of a new owner in American multi-millionaire Ron Gordon.

But how else are the fans expected to react when what they are witnessing on a weekly basis is a car crash of a season? The worry, even this early on, is that it’s all going to end with the club dropping over the cliff edge and back into the Championship.

The steel which had been brought to the team has gone, instead Hibs look soft, vulnerable, and the opposition know it, well aware that even if they fall behind, in this instance, by two goals, they’ll always have a chance to claim something.

The players brought in by Heckingbottom have proved to be largely ineffectual – almost a quarter of the way through the season they look as if they have still to get to grips with the game on this side of the border.

Hibs lack energy and drive, the opening 45 minutes against Ross County seeing them plod along, playing the game in front of a defence which had conceded six goals against Celtic the previous week rather than testing what, surely, must have been a shaken confidence.

The introduction of Daryl Horgan provided that much needed zip, the little winger latching on to Jason Naismith’s long ball to open the scoring before Scott Allan, allowed too much time and space, doubled their lead within six minutes.

At last, at last, thought the home fans, a win was coming – the first since the opening day of the season. They should have known better. Left with no option but to “go for it”, County changed their shape, and former Hibs striker Brian Graham lashed in a great strike which threw them a lifeline – one they grabbed with both hands as Joe Chalmers drilled in a last-minute equaliser.

No excuses, no refereeing errors to cling to, admitted Heckingbottom, Hibs were the authors of their own downfall as they were forced into a fourth successive draw.

A midweek clash with Livingston offers the slim hope of gaining even a little confidence ahead of Saturday’s trip along the M8 but, admitted former Staggies defender Naismith, the pressure is mounting.

Asked if there was an edgy feel around, he said: “That’s natural, the run we’ve been on, to feel edgy. We need to cope with that better but we didn’t and they’ve scored. That’s bitterly disappointing.

“At a club like Hibs, it’s got to be a worry – we should be seeing that out. Two nil up, it’s down to us as players to manage the game better but we let Ross County back into it.

“I don’t know what it’s down to, we just need that win. If Chalmers’ (shot) doesn’t go in from 30 yards, we scrape it 2-1 and we move on and everybody forgets the last 20 minutes. But it’s just not going for us just now and it’s up to us as players to change it. We need to stand up and be counted.”

Naismith conceded that in Hibs’ position draws aren’t good enough, adding: “We need to win. We need to keep believing. We can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We need to get the chest out and go again on Wednesday.

“The fans have every right to moan. But if you can’t handle that, you shouldn’t be playing at Hibs.”

Naismith and his team-mates conducted an immediate post-mortem but he insisted: “That remains in house. We’ll just use what was said and try to right our wrongs on Wednesday.

“Of course we care, if you saw us training every day, we care. The effort we put in. Things aren’t going for us but you earn your luck. We’ve only got ourselves to blame today and so we need to move onto Wednesday now.”

Hibs (4-2-3-1): Maxwell; Naismith, Porteous, Hanlon, Stevenson; Vela, Hallberg (Horgan 46); Mallan, Allan (Jackson 88), Newell (Murray 81); Kamberi. Unused substitutes: Marciano, James, Middleton, Shaw.

Ross County (4-4-1-1): Laidlaw; Fraser, Watson, Fontaine, Kelly; Foster (Mullin 72), Spence (Chalmers 72), Draper, Gardyne; Henderson (Graham 64); McKay. Unused substitutes: Dixon-Hodge, Grivosti, Spittal, Paton.