Six months ago, Hibs appeared to have hit on the strike partnership which would brings goals aplenty, Paul Heffernan and James Collins playing for the first time together as the Easter Road outfit came from behind to beat St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park.
That feeling back in September was reinforced the following week when the duo were again responsible for the goals which defeated St Mirren 2-0 in the Capital to clinch ten points from a possible 12.
Unfortunately for the Edinburgh club, that early promise all but evaporated, Heffernan and Collins having managed to barely get into double figures between them, the former having managed only four and his team-mate just two more than him. Those sad statistics reflect the fact that Hibs are today, along with St Mirren, the second lowest scoring team in the Scottish Premiership.
Frustration has become the name of the game, particularly for 32-year-old Heffernan, who admits this season has been the strangest he’s endured in a long career which encompasses spells with Notts County, Bristol City, Doncaster Rovers, Oldham Athletic, Bristol Rovers, Sheffield Wednesday and Kilmarnock.
Even the Dublin-born hitman’s arrival at Easter Road had a twist to it, Heffernan facing Hibs at Rugby Park one Saturday in August only to find himself pulling on a green-and- white shirt the following week, the subject of a surprise deadline day transfer deal which even he didn’t see coming.
He recalled: “I’d never moved between clubs like that, playing against Hibs one week and lining up for them the next Saturday. Very strange, indeed. I scored on my first start and James got his first goal in that game against St Johnstone and then we both scored the next week again. It ws all looking very good.
“The team at that point was playing well and we were creating plenty of chances. But then we took a bit of a dip. We just didn’t kick on as we thought we would.”
Pat Fenlon, Hibs boss at the time, was replaced by Terry Butcher less than three months later and, although he made the new manager’s first starting line-up, Heffernan lasted just six minutes, limping out of the action at St Mirren Park with a hamstring injury which proved to be the beginning of a frustrating few months for him.
He said: “I missed a lot of games and when I came back from the injury I got into the team and now I find myself out of it again. It’s been a bit up and down, a bit frustrating but hopefully I can get back in the team and score a few goals.”
Heffernan acknowledged, though, that it might be a case of ‘too little too late’ with Hibs facing a must-win match against St Johnstone in Perth tomorrow if their already slim hope of a top-six finish is to remain alive for at least another week. He said: “At this stage, it’s that old cliche of one game at a time.
“St Johnstone are the team we are trying to catch. We went up there a few months ago under Pat Fenlon and enjoyed a great result so hopefully we can do the same again. But we know it will be difficutl, they don’t lose too many at home as they are a well-organised side which can score goals.”
Sixth-placed Saints are where they are thanks in no small measure to the goals of Stevie May, the striker having scored 22 times this season or, to put it another way, more than twice as many as Heffernan and Collins combined. The irony of the fact is not lost on Hefferna,n who admitted he cast a rueful eye at the Scotland Under-21 star’s last goal, a weak shot which trundled through the legs of Dundee United goalkeeper Radoslaw Cierzniak. He said: “That’s what happens when you’ve scored 20 odd goals – you always seem to get that bit of luck. I didn’t go thinking ‘you lucky so-and-so’, though, as I think you get your fair share of that sort of thing over your career. I get more frustrated if I haven’t had a chance in a game.
“I’d rather miss three than have none at all because as long as you are getting into those positions time and time again the goals will eventually start coming. There will be one that falls two yards out that you can’t miss.
“I can’t put my finger on why we haven’t been scoring too many goals. Celtic apart, most teams are on the same sort of level. Most games are competitive and both teams usually get a few chances. We haven’t scored enough but we’ve been working hard on the training ground and I honestly think we have the strikers who can score plenty of goals.
“As a striker you are judged by the goals you score. Even if the team is playing well and creating a lot of chances, people look at their Sunday morning papers to see if the strikers are scoring goals.
“So, even if you come off the bench for 15 or 20 minutes you have to try to get on the end of some chances and stick it away.
“You just have to keep trying to do what comes naturally. You can’t let your head get muddled by thinking ‘I have to score, I have to do this or that’. You have to try to stay composed. All the guys have scored plenty in the past and I’m certain the goals will start to flow again.”
Alarmingly, though, for Hibs their goals drought has coincided with a bonanza for opposition teams with Butcher’s side having regularly lost three per match in recent weeks, their inconsistency highlighted by the battling comeback from two goals down against Motherwell which saw Heffernan step off the bench to score what looked like the winner only for John Sutton to claim a late equaliser.
Heffernan said: “Again it was frustration. I thought I’d got the winner having scored so late on myself and it was looking like a fantastic fightback only to find we couldn’t hold on for the win.
“It felt like a defeat. We were all deflated to have scored three only to have let three in at the other end.”