After demoralising back-to-back defeats against two of their main rivals for a Europa League place, Hibs must rediscover their poise over the coming days.
With the second Edinburgh derby of the season looming at Tynecastle next Wednesday, Neil Lennon’s team could do with a morale-boosting victory over Ross County on Saturday to banish the frustration of their unfortunate loss at the hands of Rangers last Wednesday and the subsequent humiliation of their capitulation away to Aberdeen a few days later.
The general consensus is that a return of zero points from their last two matches is not reflective of the overall quality of this Hibs team, who, until the Rangers game, could be considered the form team in the Premiership. From being right in the thick of the battle for second place at the start of last week, however, they now find themselves nine points adrift of Aberdeen and six behind Rangers, with fifth-place Hearts now breathing down their neck.
“Given how they’ve been performing, they’ll be disappointed with where they’re sitting in the league,” said former Hibs midfielder Scott Robertson. “They have played some fantastic football and dominated matches this season but the scoreline in certain matches has gone against them.
“The Aberdeen defeat will have been a particularly sore one because a lot of people, myself included, envisaged them vying with Aberdeen for second place. After taking a point off Celtic at Easter Road, they’d have been confident of then going on and getting a couple of results against Rangers and Aberdeen last week, but it’s not worked out like that.”
Although Lennon described the 4-1 defeat at Pittodrie as “a reality check”, Robertson is adamant the past two results shouldn’t cause Hibs, who had lost only one of their previous eight matches, to become overly downcast.
“I still see them as top-three contenders,” said Robertson. “I thought that when they got promoted, and I still feel they can do it. It’s only two games they’ve lost – it’s just disappointing for Hibs that they’ve lost against the two teams they’d be hoping to vie with for second place.
“I don’t think there’s any need for anyone to overreact or suggest the season has gone awry, though. It’s just two bad results. If they get a win this weekend, especially a convincing one, it will all be forgotten about going into the derby.”
Hibs’ players incurred the wrath of Lennon after their “abject” performance in Aberdeen, although the manager yesterday admitted he may have been too harsh on them given their exertions in the previous two matches against Celtic and Rangers. Former Hibs captain Kevin Thomson is confident the team will respond positively against County.
“They’ll be aggrieved that they didn’t get three points against Rangers,” he said. “To then put in the performance they did at Aberdeen, Lenny won’t have seen that coming. The challenge as a team is to bounce back in the upcoming games.
“When they’ve had disappointing results before they’ve generally bounced back. Before the Celtic game they had won five out of seven so they’re not in bad form. I’m pretty sure the tempo in training this week will be high and Lenny will be expecting three points on Saturday. Beating Ross County at home would be a confidence-booster going into the derby.”
Edinburgh derby fever is building on both sides of the Capital, although current momentum appears to be with Hearts, who now trail their rivals by just three points after being 11 adrift just a fortnight ago. The Tynecastle side, who visit St Johnstone on Saturday, could overtake the Easter Road side within the next six days if results continue to go in their favour.
“When you think of all the praise the Hibees have had and all the stick the Jambos have had, you’d have thought a couple of weeks ago that it would be unthinkable that the two teams could be within three points of each other going into the derby,” said Thomson.
“As a player, you’d always rather be going into a derby on a winning run but, at the same time, you can go into it on a bad run and then the derby can kick-start you. There are loads of different ways to look at it but ultimately, as a player, you approach every derby the same no matter how you’re playing going into it. There’ll be a full house at Tynecastle, it’s the first derby since their new stand opened and everybody’s looking forward to it, but ultimately derbies are only remembered if you’re on the winning team.”
Robertson agreed with his old team-mate that form going into the fixture will not have a major bearing on the outcome, with Hearts having lost the last derby at Easter Road in October despite going into it buoyed by successive wins over Ross County and St Johnstone. Hibs, by contrast, had gone into it on the back of three games without a win.
“Next week will take care of itself – momentum doesn’t matter in a derby,” said Robertson.
“You usually find that derbies are really level because everybody’s right up for it. It’s a really intense fixture. Hearts have picked up since the last derby, and the fact it’s at Tynecastle will count in their favour, so it’ll probably be a more even game than the last one. Tynecastle is a difficult place to go for any team, but particularly for Hibs because the fans are right up for it and the atmosphere is electric for those games. Hearts will be right up for it after beating Celtic on Sunday.”
Thomson and Robertson were both part of the last Hibs team to win at Tynecastle, more than four-and-a-half years ago. Robertson, who came off the bench to set up Ross Caldwell’s late winner in May 2013, said: “That feels like a long time ago now. I remember setting Ross up for the goal. I actually wanted a penalty because I felt I’d been fouled but Ross took a great touch and stuck it in the corner. It was so late in the game I was thinking ‘surely that’s us finally won a derby at Tynecastle’. It was a fantastic feeling.”