Hibs skipper Liam Craig today admitted Alan Stubbs’ players have to learn how to kill off opposition teams after watching another two points squandered.
Although the Easter Road outfit demolished Cowdenbeath 5-0, that impressive win was sandwiched between draws with Falkirk and, now, Raith Rovers, games in which match-winning leads have been surrendered, robbing Hibs of points which would have seen them open up a telling advantage on Rangers in the battle for second place in the Championship table.
But amid the disappointment and frustration, reflected in the chorus of jeers which greeted the final whistle only seconds after Christian Nade’s header had rescued the most unlikely of points for Raith, Craig insisted he and his team-mates will bounce back in Saturday’s Scottish Cup clash with League Two leaders Arbroath.
Adamant that late slip will act as “a wake-up call,” the midfielder said: “Yes, it was a hard one to take. Our performances have been high and the results good over the last few weeks, especially over Christmas and New Year. But within that we’ve had two games, against Falkirk when we were two goals up and dominating the match when we dropped two points and again, now, against Raith.
“We dominated in so many areas, but if you don’t put teams away you can get punished as we were. I think if we’d scored five against Raith as we did when we played Cowdenbeath there would have been no complaints. As we have seen, especially at home, teams are going to make it difficult for us, but I thought at times we opened them up and I actually lost count of the number of good, good chances we had.”
An outstanding performance by Rovers goalkeeper David McGurn undoubtedly prevented the Kirkcaldy club suffering more punishment than the Martin Boyle goal in the first minute of the second half which separated the teams until Nade’s timely intervention, the former Hearts striker claiming a point-saving equaliser for his team for the second game in succession at Easter Road.
However, Craig admitted Hibs had been guilty of a profligacy in front of goal, the 28-year-old refusing to exempt himself from criticism as he admitted two first half headers which he sent off target should, at least, have forced McGurn into some further action, while he also accepted a measure of culpability in revealing he felt he should have done a bit better himself at the corner which led to Nade’s goal.
He said: “You have to give the goalkeeper a fair bit of credit. I think he made two or three good saves, but I also believe we have to be better in those areas by putting our chances away. We didn’t do that and were punished. We shouldn’t have found ourselves in that position. We should be good enough to win games 1-0 at home. We need to be more ruthless in both boxes.”
Hibs had gone into the game well aware that victory would have sent them above Rangers, albeit by a point with the Ibrox club enjoying three games in hand, a position of strength from which they could have exerted even greater pressure on the troubled Glasgow club when they travel to Govan for their next league match a week on Friday.
Instead they find themselves a point behind with Kenny McDowall’s side still having the advantage those outstanding fixtures, although one of them is against Hearts, but, Craig insisted, that turnaround won’t faze Stubbs’ players who, he believes, have steadily grown in stature as the season has unfolded.
He said: “We’re under no illusions as to how tough a game it is going to be at Ibrox, but we just want to win every game we play in. That’s been the disappointing thing that we’ve been well on top, well in control and we’ve not won two out of our last three games at Easter Road. We’ve been in a leading position but dropped four points.”
Craig could also highlight the fact both Jason Cummings and Boyle hit the woodwork against Raith as proof of bad luck but, he claimed, you can only say you’ve been unlucky so many times. The former Falkirk and St Johnstone player said: “We need to be better, we showed against Cowdenbeath that when it’s good it’s great in term sof the way we can play and finish teams off.
“We should have done that with Raith so it was a wee wake up call to the fact that if we don’t see teams off then all it takes is one chance, that one set-piece, that one shot on goal that gets the opposition back into the game. That’s probably the most disappointing thing. We’ve had a right good number of chances, only managed to take one and they’ve scored from possibly the only one they’ve had.
“However, we now have the chance to bounce back against Arbroath who are flying at the top of their league. We’ve got a really good group of boys here playing under a really good management team and we honestly can’t wait for the next match to come because we are enjoying our game.
“We’ve got a lot of talented players, great team spirit, a great togetherness, a real buzz about the place, so while this was a set back we know how hard we are working every day and you can see what we are trying to achieve,
“Although we didn’t win I think we played a lot of great football against Raith. We’ve got good players right through the team from the goalkeeper [Mark Oxley], boys like Dylan McGeouch and Scotty Allan who are easy on the eye, Keith Watson bombing up and down the right and Lewis Stevenson doing the same on the left, while Liam Fontaine and Paul Hanlon provide us with a really solid base.
“It’s an exciting bunch of players, a good crop of youngsters and senior pros. And hen you look at the boys who weren’t involved at the weekend, Sammy Stanton and Jordon Forster on the bench, David Gray sitting up in the stand recovering from his operation, Farid El Alagui almost back, Franck Dja Djedje coming off the bench at the weekend and Dominique Malonga coming back from the African Cup of Nations.
“We’ve got real strength in depth, but now the focus us on getting back to winning ways as quickly as we can, which is obviously Saturday’s Cup match. Obviously we want to get ourselves into the next round and see how far we can go in that, but the bigger picture remains promotion out of this league.”