Watson revels in Hibs’ defensive resolve

Keith Watson
Keith Watson
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One glaring statistic shows the importance of Hibs’ narrow victory over Alloa Athletic, one which took Alan Stubbs’ players four points clear in the race for second place in the Championship table.

Incredibly, it was the first time in almost 15 months the Easter Road side had managed to hold out for a 1-0 win, a run encompassing an astonishing 59 games since Danny Handling’s goal proved to be the winner in a Scottish Cup tie away to Ross County.

Add in the fact it was also the first occasion since December, 2013, the Capital outfit had clocked up three successive clean sheets and Scott Allan’s stunning first-half strike at the Indodrill Stadium takes on an added significance.

Hibs defender Keith Watson was blissfully unaware of those stats as the final minutes ticked away in Alloa, but he knew full well the fragility of a single goal lead, the on-loan Dundee United’s players debut in Edinburgh spoiled as Christian Nade grabbed a last-minute equaliser for Raith Rovers resulting in two precious points being spilled.

This time round, though, Watson and his team-mates had taken to the pitch determined there would be no such disappointment, the fact rivals Rangers had only drawn with Falkirk the night before, offering them the opportunity not only to open up a four point lead on Rangers, but the chance to put further distance between themselves and the Bairns, whose boss Peter Houston had only recently gone on record as stating Hibs were very much in his club’s sights.

The 25-year-old said: “It was a massive three points for us. It was a narrow win, but it’s results that count at this stage of the season as we are fighting to try to stay in second place.

“Obviously we knew that with Rangers drawing the previous night they were still a point behind us and we now had the chance to take a four point lead. But Alloa is a tough place to go with that astro pitch and it turned out to be a hard-fought victory. Rangers have games in hand, we know that, but edging further away from them just adds a wee bit more pressure on them going into those matches.

“And there was an added bonus when we came off to learn Queen of the South, another of the sides chasing a play-off place, had been held by Dumbarton. It turned out to be a good weekend for us, but we’ll continue to look after ourselves and to concentrate on continuing to pick up the results we want.”

Watson insisted no thoughts of what had happened against Raith had entered his head, saying: “Going into the last five or ten minutes it was a case of concentrating, keeping it tight and not taking any chances, which is exactly what we did. I didn’t know anything about how long it had been since Hibs had won a game 1-0, but the boys were buzzing at the end because we knew how big a result it was for us.

“It wasn’t the greatest of performances, but conditions weren’t the best – windy and with heavy rain. A lot of teams have gone there and struggled, so we were more than happy with a win and a clean sheet. It was a great strike from Scotty, who I know well from our time together at Tannadice.

“He’s always been terrific on the ball and he’s one of those boys you love to have in your team and he showed it with his goal, it proved to be a massive on in the end.”

Although he’s only been with the club a short time, Watson has already displayed his versatility having played full back, on the right of a back three and, now, in central defence – not that he’s complaining.

He said: “I’m happy as long as I am in the team. We have a great squad here and you have to keep your performance up because there is always someone wanting to come in and take your place. It’s been a great team effort in recent weeks and we have players more than capable of coming on and changing a game.

“If we pick up injuries or suspensions, we know there’s someone to fill that position.”

Now, though, Watson will be sidelined for Sunday’s Scottish Cup quarter-final against Berwick Rangers, ineligible to play as he’s already cup-tied as is forward Martin Boyle, the pair having sat out the victory over Arbroath in the previous round.

But, as he admitted, all he can do is cheer on his team-mates and have his fingers crossed he’s given the nod next Wednesday when Hibs return to Championship action with a visit from basement side Livingston.

He said: “It’s frustrating to know you can’t play in such a big game and I’m sure Martin will be feeling exactly the same way. But it’s a great opportunity for the boys to get into a semi-final, although it will be a hard game as I am sure Berwick will come and try to make it difficult for us.

“Obviously there’s the worry from a personal point of view that someone will come in and do so well that they keep their place for the next game, but that’s football. You can’t do anything about it as those decisions are up to the gaffer.

“All I’ll be hoping for on the day is a win and that semi-final place which would be great for the club, the players and the fans. I came straight back in after the Arbroath game so, given we have the Livingston game only a few days after the cup-tie, hopefully the gaffer might freshen things up a bit and I’ll find myself in again.”