Vykintas Slivka and Hibs are hungry for so much more
Neil Lennon believes Hibs are currently exceeding expectations, sitting third in the Premiership table 14 games into their first season in the top flight following a three-year '¨absence.
While he agrees with his boss that the Easter Road side can be happy enough with their efforts so far, Lithuanian internationalist Vykintas Slivka employs a saying from his homeland to sum up the ambitions of Lennon’s players.
“In Lithuania, we like to say that your appetite grows when you are eating,” he revealed, explaining: “It means you always want more.
“I think that when you look back and see we were in the Championship last season we have done okay. But we also believe we might have done a bit better.”
As if to underline his opinion, Slivka could well point not only to last weekend’s dramatic finale against St Johnstone in which Hibs contrived to throw away a point despite claiming a last-minute equaliser and, going slightly further back, the last time he and his team-mates faced tomorrow’s opponents Hamilton.
Having started the season by defeating Partick Thistle and then Rangers at Ibrox – 22-year-old Slivka’s one and only goal so far in a green-and-white shirt proving to be the winner – the Capital outfit slumped to a shock 3-1 defeat at home to Accies.
By a strange twist of fate, Martin Canning’s men find themselves in exactly the same position Hibs did that day, going into tomorrow’s match off the back of another surprise result – a 2-0 win over Rangers in Govan.
“Yes,” agreed Slivka. “It was a bit of a shock coming as it did after the win at Ibrox – that goal along with one for Lithuania against Malta in a World Cup qualifying match being the highlights of my season so far. But that game is in the past – you look forward.
“Last week, too, was a disappointment and perhaps the international break did affect the momentum we’d built up with four successive wins. While you want to win every match, it does not happen like that.
“The important thing is what you take from games like that. You have to learn from them and make sure you don’t make the same mistakes again.”
However, Slivka admitted the disappointment of being beaten by Saints was tempered a little by the fact both Aberdeen and Rangers, just in front and below them in the table respectively, had also lost.
He said: “It meant we didn’t lose anything in terms of league position. We ended the day in the same place we had started it.
“It’s a very tight league especially from second to fifth or sixth and, to be honest, some of the results we’ve seen don’t surprise me.”
Despite having only arrived in Edinburgh a few months ago, Slivka is well versed in the history between Hibs and Hamilton, the Capital club making their first visit to New Douglas Park – currently known a as the SuperSeal Stadium – since the ignominy of that relegation play-off against Accies which consigned them to three years in the second tier of Scottish football.
The midfielder said: “I know what happened but we go there knowing what our strengths are and aiming to use them to win the game. After the past couple of results against Hamilton it’s perhaps our turn to do that.”
Like the vast majority of players, Slivka admits he’s less than enamoured by the prospect of playing on Accies’ artificial pitch although he is familiar with such a surface.
He said: “I have had plenty of experience on synthetic pitches in my career, especially in Lithuania but also in Holland.
“In Lithuania, we even play our international matches on one. You are never happy to play on such a surface but I am pretty used to them so it won’t be a problem.”
Ten of Slivka’s 16 appearances for Hibs have come as a substitute, his countryman, striker Deivydas Matulevicius, also having spent much of his time on the bench since his summer arrival from Belgian football. “That’s a good question,” admitted the former Juventus player when asked if he had enjoyed as much game time as he would have hoped for.
“As a player, you always want to start every game but sometimes it doesn’t work like that. We have a very strong midfield at Hibs, players like John McGinn, Dylan McGeouch and Marvin Bartley, so it is natural not to start every game.
“But it is a long season. It was always going to take a bit of time for Deivydas and myself to settle into Scottish football. You have to be patient, my chance will come and hopefully you will see what I was brought here to do.”
Unsurprisingly, Slivka admits the toughest challenges he’s come across so far have been the clashes with Celtic, Lennon’s players coming within minutes of shattering the champions “Invincibles” tag at Parkhead and then giving a good account of themselves despite going down 4-2 to Brendan Rodgers’ side in the semi-final of the Betfred Cup.
He said: “We did pretty well against them and to come so close to beating them the first time shows we are doing not too badly in going there and getting a draw. But our mentality is that we are never happy with a draw – we only go into matches thinking of winning.”
Hibs certainly did that in the first Edinburgh derby of the season and, with the draw for the fourth round of the Scottish Cup having thrown the Capital clubs together for the third year in succession, Slivka has two more encounters with Hearts to look forward to in the near future.
Revealing he’s already learned the words to “Sunshine on Leith”, he said: “The atmosphere that night was special, magical. It’s perhaps a bit strange to be getting Hearts again in the cup but it’s good for the fans. They love these games. And they are great matches to play in, because the atmosphere is fantastic.”
For now, though, those games and the prospect of a run of fixtures which sees Hibs face Celtic, Rangers and Aberdeen in the space of just six days next month have, Slivka insisted, been put firmly on hold.
He said: “It’s important to get the points tomorrow. You can’t start thinking of having six or seven games next month and who they are against. All you can think about is the next match. To do otherwise is a big mistake.
“You play the next game, look to take the three points and only then do you look to the next match.”