Scott Robertson knows from bitter experience just how quickly fortunes can change in a relegation scrap.
In his first season as a professional player, he and his Dundee team-mates thought they’d hauled themselves clear of trouble as they headed into their post-split matches with a nine-point safety net.
But it all went horribly wrong for the Dens Park outfit as they managed just two points from their final five games and were relegated. Automatic demotion, of course, is something Robertson will avoid this season but nevertheless the possibility of a play-off to secure their Scottish Premiership status remains too close for comfort for the midfielder and his Easter Road team-mates.
Terry Butcher’s players hover just one point above that dreaded 11th-place finish after their first two post-split fixtures ended in defeat, extending Hibs’ losing run to six matches.
This scenario prompts comparisons with what happened to the Dark Blues at the end of the 2004/5 season. Robertson, however, is adamant the same fate won’t befall Hibs.
The 29-year-old said: “I honestly don’t think there’s a similarity at all. That whole season we had at Dundee we’d played with the threat of relegation. Just before the split we’d got ourselves nine points clear of automatic relegation and at the time I think everyone felt we were safe and we sat back on it. We only got two points from the final five games. We drew the second last one at home to Inverness when, if we had won, we’d have given ourselves a chance but we were bottom with Livingston a point above us. We went to Almondvale the following week knowing we had to win but again we could only draw and were relegated.”
Then just 19, the final day of that season was judged by then Dundee boss Jim Duffy as too big an occasion for the rookie Robertson, but this time round Robertson is more than ready to play his part, the former Dundee United and Blackpool player having made a surprise return to action following a three-month absence through injury in last weekend’s final derby of the season.
And although that clash with Hearts ended in yet another defeat, Robertson insisted Hibs’ performance, rated their best in a “long, long time” by boss Butcher, had strengthened belief within the Easter Road dressing-room that they will escape the ignominy and anxiety of a two-legged play-off against a Championship side.
He said: “I’ve only just got back into the fold over the last couple of weeks but the manager is right in saying training has been sharp and intense. We took that into the derby and, while I can only speak for myself, everything at the weekend was positive other than the main thing – I’d rather we’d played terribly and got the right result.
“We are on a really bad run but we’ve already beaten the three teams we have yet to play so we have a positive outlook and that’s what we are trying to focus on, doing what we need to do to win these games.”
Hit by a medial knee ligament injury, Robertson admitted his sense of frustration at how badly Hibs’ season has turned sour has been heightened by a sense of helplessness. He said: “We were doing pretty well around Christmas and New Year, on a good run, pushing into the top six and enjoying a good way of playing which caused other teams problems.
“But there’s been a spell where the manager hasn’t been able to name the same starting line-up for two consecutive games through injury and suspension, myself included.
“It’s been difficult for him to get a run of games to get a good run of results strung together.” Like Butcher, Robertson acknowledged Hibs’ inability to claim a game’s first goal has proved a major obstacle to them earning the points necessary to pull away from trouble. The last time they did so coincided with their last victory, a 2-1 win over Ross County, who they face in Dingwall on Tuesday night.
Adamant it wasn’t a case of “heads going down” when Hibs find themselves falling behind in matches, Robertson said: “Obviously when other teams have a lead to defend it’s really hard to open them up and when you are two down, as we were in the derby, it’s really tough to claw back.
“I felt we did enough to do that against Hearts but just couldn’t get the second goal that might have led to a third.”
Like many of his team-mates, Robertson was surprised to see Rod Petrie at the club’s East Mains Training Centre the day before the derby, with the chairman, having been invited along by Butcher before accepting his manager’s offer to address the players.
Robertson said: “The chairman said a few words, he’s usually a quiet man who keeps himself to himself but it was good to see him around the place watching training. He then spoke to us about winning the derby, how much it means to him and everyone else around the place, not just us guys in the dressing-room.
“He just wanted us to win the derby as a fan but seeing him about and listening to him speak about it, you could feel his passion as well. It’s something people do not get to see.”