Marvin Bartley believes he is still effectively paying the price for being wrongly sent off twice earlier in the season.
The Hibs midfielder was dismissed in the home defeat by Ayr United in mid-September and the goalless draw away to Raith Rovers a month later – a couple of games that bookended a four-match run without a league win for his side. Although he didn’t have to serve a suspension as both red cards were subsequently downgraded to yellows, Bartley is in no doubt that the controversies he inadvertently found himself at the centre of have been a major factor in him losing his place in the Hibs team.
Having started seven of his team’s first nine league games of the season, Bartley hasn’t started any of the five matches since his dismissal in Kirkcaldy and has been restricted to a combined total of just 25 minutes as a substitute while his resurgent team have accumulated 13 points from a possible 15.
“I haven’t played as much as I’d have wanted to in recent weeks, but at the start of the season I was in for a prolonged period and then I had a couple of dubious decisions against me that ultimately have probably cost me my place in the team,” Bartley told the Evening News. “I believe what happened at Raith in particular has cost me because I started that game and then got a comical red card. Although I’ve not been suspended, I feel it’s played a part because I think there was probably an element of the gaffer taking me out to protect me. He was probably worried about how I might be mentally after getting sent off twice in three games. Although I felt fine within myself, the manager has to do what he thinks is right to protect his players.
“The team has gone on to do very well since I’ve been out, and I’m happy that we’ve been doing extremely well. When the gaffer needs me, I’m always ready to start a game or come on and give my all to help the team. Like any player, I’ve just got to keep backing myself. Whenever I put the shirt on, nine times out of ten I think I put in a performance I can be happy with.”
An opportunity is set to open up for Bartley to return to the side for Friday’s top-of-the-table clash away to Dundee United, with regular starters John McGinn and Fraser Fyvie out through injury. The Englishman, who is hopeful of shaking off a foot problem, and Dylan McGeouch, who has been plagued by hamstring trouble this season, are the likeliest deputies for the key duo, with teenager Scott Martin also in contention.
“Whoever plays in midfield will have a massive responsibility to perform and keep the team ticking over because we’re in what is described as the engine room,” said Bartley. “Myself and Dylan haven’t played a lot recently but there’s a chance for someone else to take up the baton and hopefully do well.”
Bartley is a big fan of McGinn, but believes concerns about the effect the highly-regarded Scotland internationalist’s absence could have on the team over the next couple of months have been overblown. He feels there are plenty other players within the Easter Road dressing-room who are capable of delivering match-winning contributions.
“All the boys within the squad know we’re not reliant on any individual player,” said Bartley. “Even McGinn would admit himself it’s a team game. I think there’s been some very good performances from other people at Hibs, and at times they don’t get the credit they maybe deserve. Obviously McGinn is a very good player, but I think sometimes people just look at our results when we win and assume it must all be about John. Recently it used to all be about Jason. Don’t get me wrong, they’re both good players, and it’s a massive blow to have John out, but hopefully it won’t make too much difference to us going forward.
“People who look in from the outside might expect us to fall away because we’re without the man they see as our star player, but I don’t think a lot changes. We’re a very good team. Yes, we’re a better team with McGinn, but we’re still well capable of pulling together and staying on a good run without him. It’s a squad game, so there’s always going to be an element of rotation anyway. We’ve got decent options to come in.”
Hibs’ resolve will be tested when they head to Tannadice looking to protect their advantage at the top of the table. Ray McKinnon’s on-form team can pull level on points with the leaders if they win on Friday in what would be a scenario few envisaged at the start of the season. Bartley, however, is unfazed by United’s emergence as title contenders.
“I’m not surprised at how well Dundee United have done because they’re a big club who have just come down and they’ve got good players,” he said. “It’s disrespectful to write off other teams in this league. Not for one second did we think we’d just romp away with the league. We’re not surprised they’re on our coat-tails but hopefully the pressure of having them just behind us will spur us on and keep us going. They’re definitely title contenders.”