Scott Robertson described his two years at Hibs as a rollercoaster, but the experienced midfielder believes his club are now ready to embark on a consistent upward curve.
The 29-year-old arrived at Easter Road in January 2013 when Pat Fenlon was in charge and feels that, after a series of low points punctuated by occasional highs, things are now finally starting to head in the right direction both for himself and his club.
He believes the negativity that plagued the reigns of both Fenlon and Terry Butcher has been replaced by a genuine sense of optimism as chief executive Leeann Dempster and head coach Alan Stubbs continue their efforts to haul the club from the wreckage of last season’s relegation.
“It’s been an absolute roller-coaster two years in my career,” Robertson told the Evening News. “So much has happened in that space of time that I hadn’t experienced in the previous ten years. It’s a magnificent club and I’d like to think it’s now going in the right direction under the current regime. Everything seems set in place to be successful in the next couple of years.
“Ultimately, we need to get promotion, and winning a trophy would be nice as well, but this period is definitely as good as it’s been in my time at Hibs. The manager’s brought a real feelgood factor. It’s an enjoyable place to be. You come in every day and never worry about what training’s going to be like or what someone’s going to say to you. We’ve got a good bunch here. Last season, with the threat of relegation looming, it was really tough coming in every day with so much negativity coming from all angles with the media and the fans and things like that.
“It’s totally different this season. There’s a different type of pressure in trying to get promotion from the Championship but the mood is a lot better. Once relegation was confirmed, we didn’t know where we stood. There was a lot of uncertainty among the players, the manager and a lot of other people at the club who didn’t know if they were going to still have jobs. No-one was able to give anybody any answers at first – it was an incredible scenario. But then Leeann and [head of football operations] George Craig came in and the new management came in and every week, with all the changes, it’s become a more enjoyable place to be. You can see we’re heading in the right direction.”
The obvious fly in the ointment for Robertson and his colleagues is that, despite the improved mood and the more refreshing brand of football this season, Hibs languish fourth in the Championship, 19 points behind leaders Hearts. Much of this is down to the fact they have won only twice and scored just seven goals in their seven league games at home this season. The smaller clubs of the division have proved particularly pesky visitors, which is something Robertson is hoping to address when lowly Alloa come to Easter Road tomorrow.
“Our home form hasn’t been good enough, that’s been the biggest disappointment this season,” he said. “We’ve played well enough to have won most of them but I’d rather have played badly and got the points in the bag. We play nice football but we’ve not been ruthless enough at home to put teams to the sword.
“When teams come to Easter Road and sit in we’ve found it really hard to break them down. As a midfielder you can sense early when it’s going to be one of those games. Normally when a team is sitting in, I find I get loads of time on the ball because no-one comes out to press me. They just sit back and hold their position and it’s really hard to get in behind them when they’re not leaving much space. I prefer games where both teams have a good idea of how they’re going to win a game and we both go at it. It was like that in the last derby at Easter Road and in the cup game at Dundee United. They were two good games to play in. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that those two games, where the opposition came out and tried to play, were probably our two best performances at home this season. We feel like we play better against teams like those and it’s obviously more entertaining for the fans.”
Stuffy games, where visitors come to defend in numbers places extra emphasis on Scott Allan, Hibs’ main creative spark. Robertson believes Hibs are fortunate to have his former Dundee United colleague in their ranks, but acknowledges they can’t expect the majestic 23-year-old to break down the door single-handedly. “Scotty generally has given us that bit of quality to unlock teams and create chances for the teams but we can’t just rely on him all the time,” said Robertson. “When he’s creating those chances, we need to make sure we’re taking them.
“In the games that he played for Dundee United when he first broke through, he was playing at the same level he’s playing at for us just now. I think any time he sets foot on a pitch, even at the clubs he was at on loan in England, his quality shines through. He’s benefitting from a long run in the team and I’d expect him to get better the more games he plays as part of this team. With the quality he has, he could play for any team in Scotland and I’d include Celtic in that.
“There’s not many better creative midfielders in the country than him. He can go past two or three players at a time and he’s got plenty assists already. We’re just glad to have him here. The quality he has is something we have been lacking in my time at the club. The manager’s identified that and he’s managed to bring him in. He’s vital to what we’re trying to do.”
A midfielder whose time at Hibs has not gone so swimmingly is Liam Craig. However, the captain has shown signs in the past few months of rediscovering the form that prompted Fenlon to bring him to Easter Road in summer 2013. Robertson is adamant that his fellow “old head” in the engine room has plenty to offer both as a player and a leader, and he is looking forward to seeing him back in the squad tomorrow after he missed last weekend’s defeat at Falkirk due to a hamstring strain.
“I enjoy playing with Liam,” said Robertson. “You look at last week’s game when he wasn’t there and you can’t help but feel that if he was playing we wouldn’t have lost that goal. He’s got that bit of experience that can help you through games like that. He’s got real energy and drive and he’s got quality on the ball. Sometimes it’s when he’s not there that you realise what he brings to the team.
“As captain, he does a lot of stuff behind the scenes, organising tickets, trips and other things with the staff – stuff I couldn’t be bothered with, to be honest. On the pitch, he’s always talking. He’s a big influence around the dressing-room and he’s quite funny off the park. He’s got real captain qualities. When we were going through the bad spell last season, it seemed like he was taking it personally because he was captain but he’s coped with the criticism well and he’s playing a lot better this season.”