James Keatings insists a quick glance at the Championship table has been enough to ensure the Hibs players remain in a positive mindset in light of their current five-game run without a victory.
The last time the Easter Road club endured such a barren sequence – in February and March of this year – it incorporated three consecutive league defeats that effectively killed off their lingering title hopes as well as a demoralising League Cup defeat by Ross County.
Keatings, therefore, was able to maintain a philosophical outlook when he realised after last weekend’s goalless draw away to Raith Rovers that his team, despite their recent struggles, had climbed back to the top of the table for the first time in four weeks.
Asked if there was any hint of negativity around the Hibs dressing-room, the striker replied: “No, we look at the league table and we’re sitting top. We’ve been through a bad run but it’s just a matter of time before we come out of it. Last season we were on a bad run and it killed us. But this time we’ve been on a bad run and we’re still top of the league.
“The boys know we haven’t been at our best recently but we’re only going to get better. We’re just focusing on trying to get back to the form we showed at the start of the season. It’ll just take one game for things to happen for us and everything will turn.”
Hibs’ main problem in recent weeks has been a lack of goals, with only three in their last five matches. As an attacking player himself, Keatings is particularly irked by this state of affairs. “We’re just going through one of those patches in front of goal. As a striker, you want to be scoring goals. When the team’s not scoring, it’s us people look at. We’re trying our hardest, so hopefully chances start falling our way and we can start taking them.
“The gaffer’s added a bit of striker movement and finishing in training this week, so we’ve been working on that. If you see the boys finishing in training, it’s just a matter of time before it starts happening on the pitch. It’ll click in one game and that’ll be us off and running again.”
Keatings has been one of Hibs’ better players in recent weeks. The attacker, who has been used predominantly as a No.10 under Neil Lennon, started the season strongly before dropping to the bench when Andrew Shinnie, a natural attacking midfielder, arrived on loan from Birmingham City. Having returned to the side for the last three games, the former Hearts and Celtic striker is now aiming to generate some momentum.
“It’s been alright,” he said, when asked how he feels his own season has gone. “In the first few games I thought I played well but then I found myself on the bench for a few weeks. I’ve managed to get an opportunity again and I feel like I’ve played quite well, so hopefully I can keep building and keep myself in the team.
“It was tough for me to find space at the start against Raith last week because they were dropping a midfielder into my area all the time which made it a scrap to get on the ball. When Marvin [Bartley] got sent off, I went wide left. I just had to adapt as best I could to do a job for the team. I’m just happy to be on the pitch any opportunity I get.”
Hibs’ form recently has been badly undermined by the fact they have had to contend with three red cards at relatively early junctures in their last five games. Two of those were shown to Bartley, and both were subsequently downgraded to yellow cards, with the most recent successful appeal coming this week in the aftermath of his first-half dismissal for tangling with Raith winger Bobby Barr.
“We’re all happy for Marvin because he’s a big player for us,” said Keatings. “The manager asked him after the game if it was a red card and he said ‘no’ straight away, then we saw it back and it obviously wasn’t a red card. That’s football though – the ref only has a couple of seconds to make a decision and he might have seen it from a different angle. Even with ten men I felt we were the better team at Raith. Hopefully we don’t get any more sent off because if we can keep 11 men on the pitch we’ll start winning again.”