Success comes at a cost. For Hibs these past few months it’s been the protracted departure of two stand-out players and the task of rebuilding a squad into another top three contender, all while juggling both European football and the beginning of the new league season.
However, club stalwart Lewis Stevenson insists the loss of John McGinn and Dylan McGeouch combined with a hectic early season schedule should not be used as an excuse to explain the club’s subpar beginning to the new Ladbrokes Premiership campaign, which has seen them fail to win any of their last three matches against top flight opposition after a promising 3-0 victory over Motherwell on the opening weekend.
The latest disappointment came on Saturday afternoon as, despite taking a second-half lead through Daryl Horgan, Hibs slipped to a 2-1 loss away to newly-promoted Livingston. What hurt more than the result was the manner of defeat as the hungrier team left with the win. It’s an accusation that hasn’t often been thrown at the Easter Road side since Neil Lennon took over.
With eight signings made in the summer, a sense of unfamiliarity within the first-team squad could be pointed to as a reason for the sluggish beginning. But while the demands of their manager and a rejuvenated fanbase may not yet have sunk in for some, all but three of the starting XI on Saturday were players at the club last season. It is up to them to raise their game and perform at the levels of expected of them, just as much as it is for the new faces in the dressing room.
“We can’t use the hectic start or players going in and out as an excuse. We’ve got a nucleus of the squad where we know what to do. Personally I need to pick my form up and I’m sure there are a few other boys who think the same,” admitted a candid Stevenson. “There’s been a lot of changes. A lot of ins and outs and it might take a while for us to all gel. But we need to compete and we need to be better.
“To be fair to Livingston, they deserved it. They looked like they wanted it more. Speaking for the boys, that’s not how it’s meant to be. We work hard, but it didn’t look like that. It’s just gutting, to be honest.”
Typically, when defeat arrives in the manner it did for Hibs on Saturday, the players would immediately want to go out on the park and put it right. Victory was in their grasp and they let all three points slip away. Such disappointment can only be flushed out of the system with another game and, they would hope, a moral boosting victory.
However, at this moment in time, the two-week international break should actually do Hibs some good. Manager Neil Lennon has already admitted that the 3-5-2 system, utilised so effectively last season, may not be best served to get the most out of the squad this term. The players could also do with a few extra training days in order to familiarise themselves with some of the recent additions, including Manchester City loanee Thomas Agyepong, who made his debut at the Tony Macaroni Stadium seconds before Livingston took the lead.
“We’ve now got two weeks training. We’ll be in working hard and working on our flaws,” said Stevenson. “I’m sure it’s going to be a tough couple of weeks but it’s something we’ve got to do together. We need to find a way to play and perform better than we did today.
“Had we won today we would have wanted a game right away. It’s going to be a long couple of weeks. It’ll feel like a month. We want to get back to winning ways sooner rather than later.”
One area of the team which may need to be looked at closely is the defensive unit. Hibs have kept only two clean sheets in ten games so far this season across all competitions and let themselves down in that department in Almondvale.
While there was no doubting the quality of either Shaun Byrne or Scott Pittman’s goals, each member of the Livingston midfield was able to move past two Hibs players before dispatching the ball past Adam Bogdan. The Hibs goalkeeper was one of few in the away ranks who definitely deserved pass marks, as he made impressive stops from Pittman and new signing Dolly Menga in each half.
“We definitely could have done better for both goals and it’s something we need to look at,” admitted Stevenson. “We’ve only got ourselves to blame. We’ve got ourselves in a good position going 1-0 up. It’s something we’ve wanted to do all year and, getting into that position, we thought we would have kicked on. But we went into our shell and I don’t know why.”