The joy of proving to be Hibs’ most unlikely match-winner in the Edinburgh club’s first Championship match has long gone for Mark Oxley.
The goalkeeper is now despairing over the raft of mistakes which have robbed him of even one clean sheet.
Eight games in and the on-loan Hull City player has yet to enjoy the most fundamental sources of pleasure for anyone who pulls on the gloves, his frustration only heightened by the knowledge that for many of the goals Alan Stubbs’ side have conceded, he’s been left totally helpless.
“It’s not as if other teams are carving us open or scoring world-class goals,” he insisted. “We are just gifting them opportunities and the goals we are conceding, if we are being brutally honest, are from our mistakes.
“There has to come a point where we must cut them out, stop them happening. We are a young group, but we need to learn quickly and move on. The quicker we do that the better and the better position we’ll find ourselves in and be closer to where we want to be.”
Hibs have conceded the first goal in five of their eight games thus far, four of which they have lost which, Oxley maintains, underlines his stance that shutouts are the platform from which matches are won – or at least not lost.
The 24-year-old said: “We need to be going in to games trying to be solid, bearing in mind clean sheets gives you something to build on. If you don’t score early doors you then, at least, have a solid base and you have a chance right to the 90th minute to win the game.
“There will be some games, of course, in which we don’t score, but we have to have that mentality that if we are not going to win then we are not going to be beaten. Unfortunately, for whatever reason that’s not happening. We are shooting ourselves in the foot.”
Oxley admitted that what made the current situation all the more annoying on a personal level was that, just like Ian McShane’s winner for Queen of the South at the weekend, he’s been left helpless on far too many occasions when, for the most part, he’s found himself hardly over-worked by opposition forwards.
He said: “We’ve discussed it in there [the dressing-room] and that’s what makes it all the more frustrating because it’s not as if teams are humping us, that I’m being overworked and having to bring off a string of saves in every game. But it’s one thing us talking about it, it’s happened in a few games now and we have learn fast.”
Although Stubbs has insisted his players have known since before a ball was kicked that opposition sides would look upon Hibs, as they would Hearts and Rangers, as a scalp to be taken, Oxley said that’s become all too evident with the concession of sloppy goals making life all the more difficult for him and his team-mates.
He said: “Playing Hibs is a big opportunity for them. Queen of the South worked so hard against us, but we have to be better. What’s happening is that teams are looking to be solid against us and hoping for a mistake and at the moment, unfortunately, that’s what we are doing, gifting them opportunities to score.
“When they do it also gives them the chance to get nine or ten bodies behind the ball. It doesn’t matter what level of football you are playing at, they’ve been given something to hold onto and the opportunity to make life really tough for you.
“There was nothing in the game against Queen of the South, just that one mistake which cost us the goal.
“We are losing games we shouldn’t be losing. It’s all right going into them thinking that and knowing we are favourites in most of them, but we must start from the point that we don’t lose a game. However, that’s obviously what’s happening. We need to be more solid, more resolute to be able to get results at places like Dumfries.”
Having faced the most southerly club in the top two flights of Scottish football, Hibs were today making the long trip to the most northerly to face Ross County in the League Cup knowing the Dingwall outfit don’t have their troubles to seek having lost all seven of their Premiership matches so far, although they remain the bookies favourites to inflict more pain on Stubbs’ players.
Noting how Rangers boss Ally McCoist had described beating Inverness Caley in the same competition last week – the first time the Ibrox club had defeated a top-flight team in two years – as a confidence booster for his players, Oxley believes victory tonight could help turn things around for Hibs, although he admitted that had been the hope following that dramatic fightback to beat Cowdenbeath.
As he looked forward to travelling the furthest north he’s ever been, every trip a new experience for the Yorkshireman, Oxley said: “That’s the great thing about football, there’s always another game to try to win and we have to grasp the opportunity.
“However, we can’t just keep going week by week talking about getting another chance. We have to take them. But this is a great chance for us to go there, get a result and build on it. We didn’t do that at the weekend so this is an opportunity to put that right.”
Whether Hibs would swap three points for progress in the League Cup is a question for debate but, Oxley admitted, that when they return to Championship business it’s vital they start putting a run of positive results together.
He said: “It’s still early in the season, but we can’t just keep on making sloppy mistakes and thinking there will be another chance – the danger then is that suddenly you find where you want to be is out your reach.”