Jason Cummings got the message loud and clear – let your standards drop and you’ll face the axe.
The Easter Road hotshot had marked the start of the season with goals against Rangers and Montrose but, after failing to shine as Hibs lost their first Championship match of the season at Dumbarton, the 20-year-old found himself sitting on the bench for the next game, the visit of Morton.
But, only seconds after replacing Marvin Bartley as boss Alan Stubbs sought that all-important breakthrough goal, Cummings was back to doing what he does best – hitting the back of the net.
His strike from skipper David Gray’s cross proved to be the winner that day but, for Cummings, it was also a lesson learned.
As he prepared to face Morton at Cappielow tomorrow, Cummings recalled: “I knew I hadn’t played well against Dumbarton so with the squad we have I understood that if you didn’t perform to your best then there’s plenty of players behind you, especially strikers, ready to bite your arm off to get a game.
“That’s what happened to me so I was sitting on the bench with the score at 0-0 thinking I need to get on there and get myself a goal.
“Luckily, I got that chance and, within thirty seconds, I’d scored what proved to be the winner.”
It was a vital victory for Alan Stubbs’ side after that defeat by Dumbarton and a trip to Ibrox next up but, after that early-season stutter, Hibs head west with confidence sky-high thanks to a run of 15 matches unbeaten, with maximum points from their last eight league matches.
That run was enough to pull themselves level with Rangers at the top of the table only three weeks after many predicted the gap of 11 points which would have been created with a win for the Light Blues at Easter Road at the beginning of last month would bring the title race to a premature end.
However, Mark Warburton’s players now have a lead of three points having beaten Dumbarton in midweek while Cummings and his team-mates were getting back into the swing of things after being given a week off by Stubbs.
But Cummings insisted the considerable momentum Hibs have built up over the past few months isn’t in danger of being lost because of that break.
He said: “I think, as the gaffer has said, when you are playing well, winning and for me personally, scoring goals, you feel as if you want to play every day far. But the days we had off have, if anything, have been good for us. It’s let us recharge our batteries, rest the legs and allow any wee niggles to be shaken off.
“We’d played a lot of games, week in, week out, with a few midweek fixtures thrown in so it was perfect timing to have a wee break.
“Now, though, we can’t wait to get started again, we’re looking forward to getting back out there and keeping our good run going.”
Tomorrow will be the first time Hibs have been back at Cappielow in exactly 17 years, goals from Stuart Lovell, Stevie Crawford and Tony Rougier earning them a 3-1 win as they romped to the old First Division title under Alex McLeish.
Cummings, though, has played there more recently and has fond memories of Morton’s ground.
He said: “I was there with our Under-20s a couple of seasons back playing against Celtic and I scored so it’s a happy hunting ground for me.
“It’s a decent pitch, the boys will be able to play and pass it about and while Morton have been doing really well, we’ll be going there confident we can pick up another three points.”
And for Cummings it’s another chance to take a further step towards beating last season’s goals tally with 14 already to his name.
He said: “I started this season just wanting to do better than last time. I’m closing in on doing that and I just want to keep putting in a performance and to score as many as I can.
“But it is not about me, not being beaten in so many games is down to the team. We are all getting a real buzz out of winning and it’s something we don’t want to lose.”
Eight of Cummings’ goals have come in his last nine matches, a blank against Livingston ending a run of scoring in seven consecutive matches and with it his chance of closing in on Easter Road legend Joe Baker’s record of netting in 11 straight games – although Baker did score an astonishing 20 in that run.
Cummings said: “I had chances against Livingston to keep my own run going but it was an off day for me in front of goal. But James Keatings came up with two great goals that night and when you have the guys we have in midfield you know chances are going to come your way. We’ll just keep taking it one game at a time as we have done all season. That won’t change.”