THERE was a tiny part of Owain Tudur Jones that breathed a sigh of relief as he sat on the bench watching his new Hibernian team-mates getting mauled by Malmo.
The 7-0 gubbing signalled the end of any hopes of a Europa League run and as uncomfortable as it was to witness, he was grateful that he wasn’t actually involved.
But as the Easter Road side embark on their opening Scottish Premiership match at home to Motherwell this afternoon, he has tried to offer some inspiration to the players who were destroyed by the Swedes that night.
“The worst one I’ve played in was my Norwich debut. We got beat 7-1 by Colchester at home, so that one’s always going to be in the memory bank, unfortunately,” says the midfielder. “It’s unfortunate, but you look at the success that the football club had during that season – they went on to win the league comfortably – and you see it can easily go the other way.
“We as a team have to focus now on doing that and trying to achieve some good results early in the season. It’s funny how things happen in the football industry. That result went on to help the side. It was really something to drive us forward, and that’s what we’re looking to do again here at Hibs.”
In the Norwich situation, though, the binning of manager Bryan Gunn following the thrashing by Colchester in 2009 is remembered as the major turning point. That huge defeat was the prompt and it was the man who engineered it for Colchester, Paul Lambert, who replaced Gunn and turned Norwich’s fortunes around, winning back-to-back promotions to take them into the Premier League.
A large slice of the Hibs support would welcome such affirmative action, their patience with Pat Fenlon eroding further with every goal they lost against Malmo. But Tudur Jones is keen to see the man who signed him afforded enough time to engineer a season capable of compensating for that European humiliation.
“It’s different because it’s not as if last week happened in a league game. We came up against a very good side last week – a side who were ahead of us in terms of preparation because of where their league is at. It’s a dangerous combination when you’ve got good players who are fitter than you. So we’re not going to dwell on it too much,” insists the 28-year-old Welshman.
“From the experiences I’ve had here over the last five or six weeks of training, everything’s really good and really positive. The gaffer and Jimmy Nicholl, his assistant, are working really well together and I, for one, am looking forward to doing a job and working under them for the season.”
Certain scorelines can never be erased from the memory but you can channel the hurt in a positive way, says Tudur Jones, signed in the summer from Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
“You experience different things in football – just as in every walk of life – and it’s important that things like that hurt, because with that hurt you can push forward to try and achieve your goals. Norwich went on to win the league that season, so the proof’s there.
“It’s very difficult to forget about results like that. That doesn’t happen. I’ve been there before and it does stick with you. Whenever you see anybody getting beat seven- or eight-nil, wherever it is, you think back – ‘I remember that game’. It’s always there in the back of your mind, but our sole focus has to be Motherwell now. We’re not going to come up against a team like Malmo, who were a very strong side in both legs, every week. We’ve got to make sure that our focus now is on SPL teams – teams we know well and who we know we can do well against.”
The fury being felt in the wake of Hibs’ European collapse is nothing new either, says Tudur Jones, with Norwich fans just as angry after their 7-1 defeat, but he says those who stuck with the club received ample payback.
“There were a few bad incidents. A few fans got on to the pitch and threw their season tickets at the manager. But the joke was on them by the time the end of the season came round. I doubt they would have got back so they missed that success, then probably the following year too, winning promotion to the Premier League. So they’ve got a bit of egg on their faces, but emotions do run high and all you can do is move on.”
It’s a cautionary tale for fans and a pick-me-up for players who need to regroup and ensure they have a positive start to the new campaign, with this afternoon’s match against Motherwell followed by a trip to Tynecastle next weekend for the first derby of the season.
“We’re probably going back three or four years to when that happened at Norwich and, looking back, it’s not funny, but you can laugh about it because it’s been and gone and you’ve learned from that experience,” said Tudur Jones. “Any supporter you speak to, I think they thought getting relegated to League One in the first place was rock bottom for Norwich. Then for that to happen, it would have been even more of an eye-opener to where the club was at. So things needed to change and they did. The players really got together and made sure that the club weren’t in that position for too long.”
The question is whether Hibs can emulate that resilience without replicating the change of manager. Plenty believe they know the answer. It’s now up to Fenlon and his players to prove otherwise.