Ross County will encounter a united and motivated Hibs side eager to prove their meek capitulation in Aberdeen last weekend was a genuine one-off, according to Marvin Bartley.
The 4-1 defeat at Pittodrie was the Easter Road club’s heaviest league reversal for almost four years and marked their first loss in an away league match for more than nine months. Manager Neil Lennon savaged his team in his post-match analysis but his anger has since subsided, to the point where he told his players yesterday that he had perhaps been too harsh on them. Regardless of the reasons behind last week’s lacklustre display, Hibs are focused on ensuring they return to the victory trail at Easter Road this weekend.
“Tempers were high in the dressing-room at half-time and after the game on Saturday – and understandably so,” midfielder Bartley said. “The gaffer let us know what he thought. He’s a passionate man. I’d much rather that than have someone who comes in at half-time when you’re 3-0 down and doesn’t show any emotion. He’s a winner, and he wants to win, and he’s instilled that in us. It’s credit to him that he’s come out and said he went too far. He’s calmed down and we’ve spoken about the game, and now we move on and try and get a positive result on Saturday.
Bartley is confident there will be no lasting hangover from last weekend’s setback. “We had an off day,” said the Englishman. “Many teams have off days. Celtic got beat 4-0 on Sunday, and Rangers got beat at home to St Johnstone, so a lot of the top teams in the league had an off-day last weekend. That’s the first heavy beating I’ve had since I’ve been at Hibs, and hopefully it’s the last because it wasn’t enjoyable. We have to bounce back. It’s not a time to start feeling sorry for ourselves. We’re a team who get in people’s faces and work hard for each other, and we’ll be trying to do that against Ross County. We can’t go hiding – we have to go out and try and put a performance on and get a positive result.”
Bartley is hoping for more prominent involvement against County tomorrow after playing only 45 minutes of Hibs’ last two matches. The 31-year-old was an unused substitute in the 2-1 defeat by Rangers as Lennon decided against utilising him after he had sustained a minor knock in the 2-2 draw with Celtic. And Bartley was then one of two players substituted at half-time – Darren McGregor was the other – as the manager tried to spark a second-half upturn from 3-0 down against Aberdeen. The former Bournemouth, Burnley and Leyton Orient anchorman was philosophical about being one of those to pay the price for his team’s slack first-half display.
“I want to play in every game so the last couple have been disappointing for me in terms of getting taken off against Aberdeen and not featuring against Rangers,” he said. “I was carrying a knock from the Celtic game but I still wanted to play. I have to accept that, on Saturday, the manager was trying to get us back into the game. I think he asked the ref if he could make 11 subs! At 3-0 down, I expected he’d want to make some changes in shape or personnel. He’s well within his rights to take off whoever he wants when he wants, you just have to accept that.
“I’m a big boy. I’ve been in the game a long time. If your team’s losing a game and you’re a defensive-minded player like me, you’re always going to be one of the likeliest players to come off because the manager wants to get back into the game rather than keep things tight. It’s a common thing in football for defensive midfielders to get taken off if their team’s losing, especially if we have three midfielders in there. I don’t take it personally. I went on the bench in the second half and supported the boys, as I’ll continue to do if I get subbed again. I just hope I’m back in the team against Ross County, and the game after that.”
That game is, of course, away to Hearts on Wednesday night. Just three points separate the two Capital clubs going into this weekend’s fixture. Bartley is clearly relishing heading to Tynecastle, although the midfielder was reluctant to say too much about it until the County game has been negotiated.
“When the Hearts game comes round, we’ll be more than ready, but we’ve got a game this weekend to take care of first,” he said.
Hibs will be looking to stop a three-game run without a win tomorrow. They are nine points adrift of second-place Aberdeen having been within a point of them just a few weeks ago. Despite recent disappointments, Bartley is adamant that Hibs, within six points of Rangers and three points above their city rivals, remain in a strong position overall. “I think we’ve gone really well for a team that’s just come up,” he said. “Regardless of how games have gone, back in the summer, if any Hibs player or supporter was offered an opportunity to be in fourth place at this stage in the season, we’d have probably taken it. In our last three games we’ve only got one point from two very good performances and one bad performance. Maybe we should have had more points, but the fact is we haven’t. We’ve got to dig in and get a positive result tomorrow.”