James Keatings: Hibs are only looking forwards now

Normally a dressing-room post mortem following a disappointing defeat is a soul-searching affair, fingers pointed, opinions exchanged in a full, frank and often heated fashion.

Wednesday, 16th March 2016, 6:00 am
James Keatings admits the Scottish Cup is the trophy Hibs fans really want

However, that was far from the case when Alan Stubbs and his players sat down the morning after losing the League Cup final to Ross County to dissect the 90 minutes of action at Hampden.

Certainly, the bitter disappointment they felt at the final blast of referee Kevin Clancy’s whistle will remain with them for some time but, as James Keatings revealed, there was little need for any recrimination.

The striker, who watched the first 76 minutes unfold from the sidelines before replacing Kevin Thomson in an attempt to find a winning goal with the match finely poised at 1-1, said: “I felt we were the better team.

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“But it was a cup final and, if you ask my opinion, I’d rather the boys had played terribly but lifted the cup at the end of it. If you are talking about performances, then I feel the team played well – we just didn’t take our chances on the day.”

So, while it may not have been a “clear the air” meeting at the club’s East Mains training centre, according to Keatings, it was good to talk although, he revealed he’s yet to bring himself to have another look at his runners-up medal.

He said: “It helped as a group to talk, to get our thoughts out but it was about moving on and looking forward to the rest of the season.

“It was very disappointing. At the end of the day, you want to go up and lift the cup, celebrate with your team-mates and have a good day.

“My dad and I had a look at my medal but it’s in the house. I haven’t taken it out of the bag or looked at it since.

“But it’s done and dusted. The disappointment is there but it’s about getting that out of our system and turning it into a determination to drive us on for the rest of the season.”

That begins tonight in Inverness when Hibs hope to book a quick-fire return to Hampden by winning their Scottish Cup replay against the Premiership side following the 1-1 draw at Easter Road ten days ago.

Keatings, who ended a four-month goal drought, by putting Hibs ahead only for Caley substitute Andrea Mbuyi-Mutombo to claim a late equaliser, said: “That’s the good thing about football – you always have an opportunity to put things right and lift everybody.

“It’s going to be tough. Inverness are a top side but it is up to us to go up there and show the character we have in that dressing-room, put in a performance and hopefully get the win we want to get back to Hampden.”

As great as it would have been to lift the League Cup, Keatings conceded the Scottish Cup was the one every Hibs fan wants although, he insisted, promotion to the top flight remains very much the No.1 priority.

The 24-year-old former Hamilton and Hearts hitman, said: “Every fan wants cups, every player wants cups. As a player, you want to win every single cup and get as many as you can but this one in particular is the one the fans talk about.

“But the club is also going for promotion as well. That’s our main focus and it’s up to us. We’ve got massive games coming up.”

Keatings’ personal disappointment was accentuated by the fact he was listed among Hibs’ substitutes despite that goal against Caley a week earlier, but now he is hoping he can ease that pain by scoring again tonight. He said: “After the performance I had put in the week before. I thought I had a chance of starting, but I respect the decision of the manager.

“And I fully believed the team that did start would go on and win the game. But every individual shared the same disappointment.

“Scoring against Caley was massive for me after a disappointing run of games and getting that goal did lift a lot of weight off me.

“I put pressure on myself to get goals. I’ve got that one and hopefully I can kick on.”

Although he regards the cup competitions very much a bonus when held against the stated aim of promotion, head coach Stubbs admitted that, like his players, he’d love to make another final this season, victory tonight presenting the winners with a semi-final against Premiership basement side Dundee United.

Stubbs said: “That’s our target, and that’s what we will certainly try to do. Whether we can do, I can’t answer just yet but we’ll certainly have a right good go at it.

“You can’t win it if you’re not in the final. We did great to get to last Sunday’s final. Unfortunately we just didn’t get the result we wanted.

“Tonight, we have another good opportunity to get back there. All is not lost.

“At the start of the season, you don’t measure it on a cup. It’s always a bonus and the icing on the cake. Our main focus is the league, it always has been.

“But we move on,. Tonight is our next important game to try and get a victory. Our performances against Premiership teams have been very good. Sunday was our first defeat.

“The fact we have played so many this season and performed respectably and credibly in those games gives us good confidence.

“We’ve done really well up to now. We’ve got to a major final, we are in the quarter-finals of the Scottish Cup. At the moment, we are sitting third in the league but with our games in hand we can be second.

“We still have a chance of going up through the play-offs.

“I think if there was any manager sittng in this chair right now and that was what was offered them before a ball was kicked they’d have snapped your hand off. I think that’s progress.”