As a boyhood Hibs fan himself, Darren McGregor understands entirely why there is no shortage of scepticism among his fellow supporters ahead of today’s must-win Premiership play-off quarter-final second leg at home to Raith Rovers.
The Easter Road club have endured more high-profile anguish than most in Scotland in recent times and have suffered play-off heartache in each of the last two seasons. It is little wonder that Hibs fans are not exactly relishing the prospect of watching their team try to overturn a 1-0 first-leg deficit against the in-form Kirkcaldy side this lunchtime.
A season that promised so much just a few months ago is now in serious danger of turning into a damp squib for Alan Stubbs’ team. The glorious dream of winning promotion and the Scottish Cup in the space of a few days later this month is now reliant on victory at a tense Easter Road today.
McGregor is comforted by the knowledge that he can play a part in ensuring a positive ending to a season that is presently in the balance. “We’re in a situation where we can still get promoted, we’ve been in a national cup final – albeit it never ended the way we wanted – and we’re in another one,” said the defender. “There are two sides to the coin. I totally empathise with the fans who are looking at it from the negative perspective in the sense that we’ve lost a cup final and we’re 1-0 down to Raith in the play-offs. I can totally understand that.
“We’re well aware of the hype and all the terminology that’s used to describe our efforts. The media adds to the way the fans feel and obviously prior experiences with the club haven’t helped with regard to the negativity. But as a player you need to look at it and say ‘we’re still right in the tie and we’ve got a right good end of the season to look forward to.’”
McGregor knows several press-conference quotes from the Hibs players and management have been used to fire up the opposition this season and was careful to avoid stoking any more fires. He is confident about his team’s prospects today but is respectful of what Raith Rovers have done under Ray McKinnon this season and how the Kirkcaldy side went about their business on Wednesday.
“We need to dig deep and get on with it,” he said of the first-leg deficit. “We’re in a situation where we need to win but we believe we’ve got the tools to do it. One bad result doesn’t change that. A draw would have been a fair result on Wednesday but Raith Rovers took their chance when it came.
“They worked well the other night and Ray McKinnon’s had a great last quarter of the season, and fair play to them. But we need to write our own story and that starts this weekend. We’ve invested so much into the season. It’s been well documented that the past few months haven’t gone how we wanted them to go but we’re still in the tie and we’ve got a great chance of going through.
“All we can do is perform to the best of our ability and we know that if we do that, we’re good enough to win. That’s not to say by any stretch that we’ll be turning up thinking ‘we’re Hibs, so we just need to turn up’. That’s maybe been misconstrued over the past few weeks. We know that on our day we can beat any team in Scotland but it’s no use me saying that here – it’s all about proving it.”
McGregor knows there is likely to be anxiety in the Easter Road air today, but he insists he and his team-mates can handle the heat. “There’s tension all the time in football,” he said. “You get tension in games you don’t expect tension. If we go to Alloa in the league, there’ll be tension there because the expectation is that we should be winning comfortably. There is tension because of what’s at stake against Raith but in terms of how we apply ourselves, nothing changes. We’re still playing to get promotion and the main thing just now is to get through the round. It’s more difficult because of the situation we’re in but we know we just need to win. I think that would have been the case regardless of whether we had won at Stark’s Park or not. We’d still be demanding a victory at Easter Road.”