HIBERNIAN will seek to take advantage of weekend defeats suffered by both Inverness and Motherwell when they entertain St Johnstone at Easter Road tonight.
A four-day SPL “weekend” has offered Hibs the opportunity to sit back and assess how their rivals fared.
Not so well was the answer, with Inverness losing to a shadow Celtic side and Motherwell going down 2-0 at Kilmarnock. Now it is over to goal-shy Hibs. These results mean that a win for the Easter Road outfit this evening would leave Pat Fenlon’s side sitting in joint-second position, which is remarkable considering they have won only once in their last nine league outings, and scored just five times. They will, however, have played two games more than either Inverness or Motherwell.
“There’s plenty to play for,” stressed Alan Maybury, who will come up against one of his former sides tonight. “The club’s come on a mile from where it was last season, with a lot of changes, so it was probably inevitable that there were going to be spells like this.
“There’s nothing to be down about. Inverness slipped up a couple of times. You just need to be in and around it so you can take advantage of these.
“The manager had to bring in a lot of players [last season] just to steady it and make sure they stayed up.
“It’s been a lot steadier this year. There’s been a big turnaround. The atmosphere at the club is a lot better, but then that comes with results, and we had a good start. We’ll focus on the positives and kick on.”
The positives have been a fine home win over Celtic as well as last weekend’s Scottish Cup victory over Aberdeen, which followed an equally tight but welcome defeat of Hearts in the previous round. All three victories were helped by Hibs managing to keep clean sheets. The negatives include a poor goal return; just three this year. Apart from two strikes from Leigh Griffiths, the only other goal scored in 2013 is Gary Deegan’s bolt out of nowhere against Aberdeen eight days ago.
“At the start of the season we were free-scoring, and went two goals a game for a lot of games,” reflected Maybury, “but it inevitably just dries up a little bit. We were shipping in goals and we’ve tightened that up. You go through these every season. It’s just a case of keeping doing the right things.
“There’s just little moments in games – like last Sunday, a wonder goal from Gary Deegan, then a penalty save late on from Ben Williams – that got us through. A couple of weeks ago those were going against us, but for the moment we’ll keep taking them.”
Williams’ shot-stopping has been key to Hibs occupying as lofty a place in the league as they do. Maybury and Williams were once team-mates at Colchester United, where Scott Vernon, who was foiled from the spot by the Hibs goalkeeper last weekend, also played for a spell. “I think Ben had a good idea where he was going to put it,” said Maybury of Williams’ intervention against the Dons striker in the cup, his fourth penalty save this season.
“Leigh Griffiths will get all the headlines for the goals he scores, but Ben has been top class for us,” said Maybury
“We’ve been stop-start lately, picked up a couple of good draws, but not enough wins over the last ten games or so,” he continued, “but everyone’s going to have a spell like that over the season. [It’s] just we got off to such a good start and then have fallen away recently, but hopefully we’ll take some confidence from the good results against Celtic and Hearts, and we’re through to the next round of the cup. It’s just really kicking on that is important.”
Although Hibs are looking upwards, Maybury is sorely aware of the fact that they are now also just five points from second-bottom place.
“It’s just tightened up, the whole league,” he said, “so if anyone can put any sort of form together between now and the end of the season, they’re really going to kick on.”