John McGinn playing it cool in Hibs' play-off bid
There will be barely enough time to take a deep breath before they're asked to do it all over again, a mere three days for Hibs to rest and recover before being pitched into their 52nd game of this marathon season.
And, with each passing match the pressure builds. Hibs overcame a one-goal deficit to defeat Raith Rovers and set up a clash with Falkirk, the side which pipped them to second place in the Championship, thus ensuring Hibs would be involved in an extended play-off programme.
While the Easter Road side have had to contend with that double-header against the in-form Stark’s Park outfit, Peter Houston’s side have, in stark contrast, been able to put their feet up and ease their aching limbs for nine days, a rest which many will see as giving the Bairns the edge as the clubs prepare to battle it out to decide who will take on Kilmarnock for one final shot at promotion.
You could, of course, say Hibs have brought this situation upon themselves, that inexplicable run of matches through late February and March not only saw their own title hopes vanish but land them with two extra matches in a season in which they’ve also had to cope with a run to the final of two cups.
But, insisted midfielder John McGinn, all eyes are fixed on the prize dangling before them, adamant tiredness won’t become an issue, revealing the lengths to which he and his team-mates are going in readiness for this unrelenting schedule of games. Fresh from an ice bath, McGinn extended an open invitation for those of us hanging on his every word after his early strike and Darren McGregor’s quick-fire second had seen to Raith to “join me after the next game – if you want.”
No takers, of course, but while McGinn, who through his exploits with Scotland at both Under-21 and full international level has already clocked up 54 games this term revealed, it’s probably not the most popular past-time among his team-mates, he insisted it will all prove worthwhile in the end.
He said: “The manager has us on a mix of rest as well as preparation and recovery. We were in an ice bath right after the game. It’s freezing, obviously, but it all counts. If it gives us that extra two per cent tomorrow night, it’ll be worth it. We need all the rest and recovery we can get.
“There are a few obvious candidates when it comes to complaining about the ice bath, you could probably have a guess at the prime suspects. But it’s a team game, so nobody gets to miss out. If one of us is in, we’re all in.”
Even a weekly round of golf has been sacrificed in pursuit of promotion, McGinn disclosing: “The manager is quite strict about our down time. I’ve missed my golf this year, although I’m quite rusty so that’s probably not the worst thing.
“Basically life is just going into training then going home to rest and recover, getting enough sleep. So the gaffer is quite strict, because he knows how important these games are.
“It’s probably a good thing for some of the boys if they’ve got an excuse not to get dragged out shopping.
“But we can all see the prize at the end of it – and we all know it’s worth the effort. Adrenaline is important, it’s been a hard season, a long season. We just need to try to be as fresh as we can.”
As to the question of whether the rest, which Hibs had at this stage last season only to lose out to Rangers in the semi-finals of Premiership play-offs, benefits Falkirk, McGinn insisted he’d rather be playing.
He said: “Last year, according to the boys who were here, it was actually a bit strange for them waiting to get involved in the play-offs. I would rather be playing than sitting waiting for a game.
“I’m only 21, so I can’t really complain about feeling tired.”
Having, yet again, had the question of “bottle” raised in the wake of that defeat in Kirkcaldy, McGinn insisted he and his team-mates remained totally confident in themselves, vindicated by a whirlwind start which threatened to blow Raith away, his deflected strike giving Hibs the dream start they wanted before McGregor powered home a header just four minutes later.
He said: “We knew what we had to do and it all started early. Maybe the second half wasn’t as fluent, but we got over the line.
“I don’t think there were any nerves; look how freely we were playing in the first half. If we’d kept playing like that, it could have been three, four or five nil.
“We sat back a bit too much in the second half but defended really well, which is credit to the boys at the back. The important thing is we are through.”
Although there was only one moment of real worry for Hibs, McGregor misjudging a high ball only to be dug out by goalkeeper Conrad Logan as he came out on top in a one-on-one situation with Raith striker Ryan Hardie before the defender redeemed himself with a perfectly timed tackle on Louis Longridge as he pounced on the rebound, there were some nerves among the home fans as a third and clinching goal failed to materialise.
That it didn’t arrive was down to a terrific save from Rovers goalkeeper Kevin Cuthbert, getting down to fingertip away Liam Henderson’s netbound shot and then skipper David Gray’s header crashing back off the post.
But, insisted McGinn, Hibs more than coped saying: “You are at a big club, in that situation you are going to feel the nerves from the crowd. But that’s when you have to puff your chest out and be big enough to deal with it.
“I think we just overdid it at times, myself included. There were couple of boys who were just too keen to get the ball down and maybe overplay things. I thrive under pressure, though and I’m really looking forward to the big games coming up.”
Having thrown away a two goal lead over Falkirk in the dying seconds last time the teams met at Easter Road, McGinn acknowledged he and his team-mates will need to produce the performance they achieved for 85 minutes of that match and the first half-hour against Raith.
He said: “We know the games with Falkirk will be tight. They’re a good side, well organised. They’ve got strengths, as we do. We just need to play to our strengths, that will give us the best chance of getting through.
“It’s unfortunate the game didn’t last 85 minutes that night and 30 against Raith. We need to play for the whole game and be at our best to overcome Falkirk.”