Leigh Griffiths aiming to lift Hibs out of danger

JAMES McPAKE reckons Leigh Griffiths could be Hibs’ secret weapon in the fight against relegation – if he just takes a step back in time.

By COLLEEN STRACHAN
Tuesday, 3rd April 2012, 1:01 pm

McPake is a huge fan of his former Livingston team-mate and has no doubts that the striker can bag the goals that will keep Hibs in the top flight this season.

He remembers being in awe of Griffiths’ prowess in front of goal in training sessions and in matches for Livi and is keen to see his pal return to the good old days of shooting on sight.

Griffiths has been under pressure on and off the field in recent weeks, but looked back to his old self against Inverness Caley Thistle on Sunday as he hit the crucial winning goal after earlier strikes by Paul Hanlon and Garry O’Connor.

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McPake was one of the first to join in with the 21-year-old’s celebrations just four minutes from time and is keen to see more of the same in the remaining weeks of the campaign.

McPake conceded: “It’s hard for him because he is a die-hard Hibs fan and sometimes he gets a bit too caught up in things and tries too hard.

“But he’s a great player to have in your team, especially on days like Sunday. A wee bit of magic from him can win any game. I saw that when I was playing with him at Livingston. I’ve said to him before that he just needs to relax. When we were at Livi, he was shooting all the time. If he’d had a couple of opportunities to shoot when he was younger, he would have taken most of them, but I don’t know if it’s a confidence thing now.

“But he should be shooting all the time because he has the ability, as he showed on Sunday. He has got more goals in him – and it was good to see big Gaz getting a goal as well.”

The pressure has been on Hibs as a whole in recent weeks but, having opened a six-point gap on bottom side Dunfermline and booked a place in the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup, McPake insisted that there are also plenty of positives to take from this campaign.

Manager Pat Fenlon said after the game in Inverness that his side have looked fearful in the opening stages of some games, but McPake believes that it is simply a case of boosting confidence levels within the squad and added: “For a team in our position, every week it is another high-pressure game. We have a lot of young boys as well who have never been in this kind of situation before. I’m not sure it we are fearful, it’s maybe just a lack of confidence.

“We are maybe a bit down at the minute, but we shouldn’t be because we are a decent team and when we play well we can cut through teams. We are in the semi-finals of the national cup, so I think that we have a lot of positives that everyone is overlooking.

“We’ve a six-point cushion now, which is better, obviously. It’s the best that we could have hoped for. The results at the weekend went in our favour and that’s all that we can ask for at this stage.

“This result will help us no end, especially with the semi-final coming up in a couple of weeks.

“We have some big characters in our dressing room and we have to try and help the younger boys through. The cup will take care of itself because, compared to the league, there’s not as much pressure on you.

“Our focus is on Motherwell next weekend and we should be high on confidence going into that game because we are all fighting for a place at Hampden the following weekend.”

McPake was delighted with the hard-fought victory over Inverness – their second win on the bounce at the Caledonian Stadium – although he admitted that there are still some issues to be ironed out.

“Previously this season, when we have gone a goal down we have crumbled, and that has been a big issue for us because other teams know that,” he added. “They know that if they score a goal against us, nine times out of ten they go on and win.

“That is something we are trying to change and we need to change. With a display like that on Sunday, I think that everyone can see we are changing.

“We went a goal down, but we kept ourselves in the game, didn’t let our heads go down and it paid off for us in the end.

“I think the conditions in the first half were against us. It was a strong wind and it was carrying through. But they started brighter than us and they seemed really up for it – more than us – which was a bit strange considering that we are the ones fighting for our lives.

“But we got ourselves together and got in at half-time without any damage and after the break we looked like a completely different team.”

This weekend coming is likely to be pivotal in the battle to avoid relegation, with Hibs knowing that victory, combined with defeat for Dunfermline in their game against Hearts, would leave them in a great position to stay up. However, having been through the mill during relegation battles in the past, McPake is taking nothing for granted.

“Next week, we know that it could go back to three points, so we can’t get carried away,” he said. “That’s how tight it is at the minute. But the result on Sunday means that we are now that bit closer to Inverness above us. We need to be looking up the way, not down.

“We don’t want to be going into the last couple of games of the season still facing the threat of relegation.

“I’ve said before that this is too big a football club to be going down to the First Division, but we all know that you have no divine right to stay up.

“If we’re going to stay up, then we are going to have to earn the right.

“With a few more performances like the second half on Sunday, hopefully we should be okay.”

While the threat of relegation still hangs over the club, McPake is also acutely aware of the fact that this season could still turn out to be one of the most notable in the club’s history.

If they can avoid the drop and make it through to the final of the Scottish Cup, they could be on the verge of going down in the record books for all the right reasons.

He is determined to end the campaign on a high, adding: “I have been through it before. At Livingston, I survived on the last day of the season and was relegated with just a couple of weeks to go too, so I know what it’s all about.

“Experiencing that was horrible and it is something that I’m sure none of the other boys wants to taste. I will do everything that I can to make sure it doesn’t happen.

“When you look at it, this could go down as the most disastrous season in the club’s history, or it could be the greatest in over 100 years. That’s the difference.

“The boys have got to realise that.

“If we can keep ourselves in this league, that is the priority, and then we will look to the cup.

“You just have to look at Kilmarnock winning the League Cup. It gives you hope and you just never know.

“We know we’ve some tough games to come before we can look at something like that, but it would be nice to finish the season on a positive note.”