For a club of Hibs’ size to be staring at a third season in the Championship is very disappointing. In fact it’s simply not good enough.
It’s a worrying situation because things are not going to get any easier for us. Yes, we won’t have Hearts or Rangers in the league, but Dundee United and either Falkirk or Kilmarnock are going to be in there with us.
Looking at the overall picture, we should have been good enough to go up. I genuinely thought we’d either win the league or go up through the play-offs. We looked certainties for promotion before we hit that slump a few months ago. I certainly didn’t see this scenario coming.
I think the bad run we went on from late February has come back to haunt us. We were in contention for the title in mid-February and had cranked up the heat on Rangers with a great run through the winter but we ended up losing our momentum and finishing third. There have been mitigating circumstances along the way, such as the heavy schedule, but the fact we’ve not been promoted is simply not good enough. We’ve lost too many games against the likes of Morton and Dumbarton that we should have been winning at all costs.
Even in the play-offs against Falkirk, we scored four goals in the two games and it still wasn’t enough. We weren’t able to see either game out. The penalty decision going against us when we were 2-1 up in the first game didn’t help us but we lost very poor goals at the end of both games. Over the course of the season, we’ve simply not been reliable enough to see games out.
The club as a whole now have to take stock, work out what’s gone wrong and decide where they go from here.
In a situation like this, you always leave yourselves open to losing your best players but let’s be honest here – we’ve not won promotion while we’ve had these players here. They may be good players, but there’s an argument that, if they were that good, they’d have got us promoted. Ideally, we won’t be forced into a fire sale, but if we lose players, we’ll just have to build again. This club should not be in this position and all of the players have to take their share of the blame.
A lot of people are pointing the finger at Alan Stubbs and there seems to be real uncertainty about whether he will stay on, but I hope he remains in charge. We won’t get anywhere by changing another manager after just two years. We need some stability.
If it was up to me, he’d definitely get another shot at it. I think he’s undoubtedly moved us forward since he came in two years ago. Let’s not forget, he inherited a total shambles. He’s done a lot of work to get us a decent team on the pitch again. Our results against the bigger teams show that, even though we haven’t gone up, we are a good team. The main problem we’ve had is that we haven’t been up to the task of grinding out victories in the bread-and-butter league games that we should be winning. A factor in that is that we probably lacked the required experience to dig games out when the going got tough. If we’d had a few older heads, we’d have probably coped a bit better when we eventually hit our slump and got back on track that bit quicker.
For all that he’s had a good team on paper, a lot of them are still young. I wrote a few times that I felt we could have done with one or two more experienced players in there. Although Hibs dominated a lot of the play-off, Falkirk had some good experienced pros out there like Mark Kerr, David McCracken, John Baird and Lee Miller who helped them get over the line when it mattered. By contrast, we got jittery at the back and lacked composure at the front end, and I think part of that is down to the lack of one or two 30-somethings with a bit of know-how. I think that’s something we need to look at for next season if we want to win this league.
I’ve always said the priority was promotion but now that that is gone, we’ve somehow got to try and pick ourselves up and win the Scottish Cup on Saturday so that we can have something to show for an incredibly long, hard season. The next few days will be a case of getting over Friday, but come Saturday, the occasion should take care of itself. It’s still a massive day for the club, the players and the supporters. A few months ago, we were in contention for a treble. If we lose on Saturday, we end up with nothing. We can’t let that happen.