Oxley prepared to ditch style in Hibs play-off bid

Hibs keeper Mark Oxley takes time out 'to relax in the Spanish sunshine. Pic: Eric McCowat
Hibs keeper Mark Oxley takes time out 'to relax in the Spanish sunshine. Pic: Eric McCowat
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Like the rest of his Easter Road team-mates, Mark Oxley sat transfixed as Swindon and Sheffield United shared a goal fest as they battled for supremacy in the League One play-offs down south.

The Robins, already leading 2-1 from the first leg at Bramall Lane, looked home and dry as they raced into a three-goal lead after just 18 minutes on their own turf.

But United refused to be beaten, continually pegging Swindon back, only for the Blades to keep pegging them back, with two late strikes from former Hibs player Matt Done and Che Adams to set up a nail-biting finale. The game finally ended in an astonishing 5-5 draw, sadly not enough for Nigel Clough’s United side.

It all made for an enthralling 90 minutes of football as Alan Stubbs’ players relaxed in their hotel in the Spanish resort of La Manga at the end of a tough first day’s training in the Mediterranean sunshine.

However, as much as Oxley knows Hibs fans would love to see a repeat when the Capital club eventually begin their final push for promotion a week today, the goalkeeper admitted he’d be happy to bore them to death – provided it meant a return to the Premiership.

The 24-year-old said: “I read that was the biggest scoring game in a play-off. Anything can happen, especially if there’s an early goal. The crowd factor, everything comes into it.

“It does not matter how you get through at this stage of the season. We want to play well but it’s all about the result. If you asked anyone I’m sure they would not be bothered if we bored the life out of them for the 180 minutes of both play-off ties so long as we won each of them 1-0. That’s all that matters.”

Hibs, of course, have yet to find out who their semi-final opponents will be although Rangers are favourites following their 2-1 win over Queen of the South at Palmerston Park, a narrow advantage which will be taken into Sunday’s return leg at Ibrox.

Oxley, though, insisted he has no preference as to who he’d like to be facing, Hibs having enjoyed three Championship wins out of four against Rangers – including two in Govan – while their results when confronted by Queens have been somewhat less impressive, one win, two defeats and a draw.

He said: “Whatever comes our way we’ll prepare for it. We’ve played against them both so we know what to expect. You could not ask for anything better to prepare than being out here.

“You look at the games, the Queen of the South games have been a lot tighter whereas the Rangers games have been probably more open. With the results you can see that. If we did get Rangers, you’d probably expect a full crowd at their place whereas you won’t get the same atmosphere at Queens.”

Hibs’ victories at Ibrox came at a time when the Glasgow outfit was being ripped apart by the financial meltdown they’d suffered, fans openly protesting against the board and voting with their feet, ensuring Ibrox was, at times, less than half-full.

But should it be Rangers that Hibs face a week tonight on the other side of the country it’s likely to be a totally different scenario. Admission prices have been slashed to £5 in defiance of the SPFL’s ruling on season tickets not being valid for the play-offs while their supporters, like those of the Edinburgh club, recognise the importance of such matches.

Oxley, though, was adamant none of Stubbs’ players will be fazed by such a prospect although he has been told often enough of the atmosphere a packed Ibrox can generate from his Hull City colleague, ex-Rangers goalkeeper Allan McGregor.

He said: “Any game at this stage of the season is a big one. We’ve had good experiences there [at Ibrox] this year. If it was to be Rangers we would be looking to take that into the game. It might not be a full crowd but we’ve played in big games, even the cup game was one we experienced.

“If it does come to the stage that we are playing them I’m sure it will be a full house. It’s probably not been a full house before but it’s still been a great experience getting the results there.

“You can see how much it means to the lads who’ve been here before, Lewis Stevenson and players like that. You can see how much of a big scalp it is for them to get a result and we’d be looking to do that again.

“Rangers are a massive club and they’re probably not where they should be either but that’s the situation they’re in and they have to deal with it like we will.

“We’ll be looking to focus on ourselves because if you look at anything else that’s when you can take your mind of stuff. I’ve been in positions before during the season, you look at other results but you have to look after yourself.

“We were in second and then fell to third, the cup and stuff like that. It shows you can’t take your eye of the ball for a second, especially at this time of the season. You don’t want to experience what we experienced at Hampden, fair enough we might have got the plaudits for being the best team but if you lose it’s all pointless.”

Oxley realises that next weekend could be a massive one on two levels. While he’ll be doing his best to ensure Hibs progress to the play-off final against the Premiership’s second bottom team, his “parent” club Hull City will be scrapping to stay in the top flight in England.

Back-to-back wins over Crystal Palace and Liverpool looked to have done it for Steve Bruce’s side only a few weeks ago, but successive defeats by Arsenal and relegated Burnley has pushed them into the drop zone, two points adrift of safety with daunting matches against Spurs and Arsenal to come.

Yorkshireman Oxley said “They looked safe a few weeks back but it’s got a lot tighter now and there are teams fighting for their lives. They’ve got two tough games, I’m sure they’ll be all right.”

Although he’s been on what has now turned out to be a season-long loan at Easter Road, Oxley, naturally, keeps in touch with what’s going on at the KC Stadium – but he insists his entire focus is on Hibs.

He said: “I speak to the goalkeepers quite a bit, Steven Harper and Allan. It’s great to have them there for advice. It’s good to have contacts like that.

“Harps probably hasn’t played as much as he should have, but he’s never been below Championship football and he’s been in the Premier League with Newcastle United as well.

“Allan was a bit of a hero up here, he did well and is an internationalist. There is Stephen Quinn too, I used to travel in with him every day from Sheffield.

“They’ve all been involved scrapping for results and we encourage each other and see how we’re getting on. It’s good to keep speaking to them because they’ve had the experience of playing in big games.

“But my club, the club I am playing for at the moment is Hibs and that’s my main concern.”