THERE will be many Hibs fans who can now think that their season has finally started following the team’s come-from-behind victory at Kilmarnock on Saturday.
According to Rowan Vine, however, the season actually got going for Hibs a week previously just nine minutes from time, when Scott Robertson’s late goal earned the ten men in green a point against Dundee United at Easter Road.
That first point of the season after a run of defeats was crucial, according to Vine, who was speaking after the 2-1 victory at Rugby Park.
“After so many negatives in a row you have to try and take the positives,” said Vine, “and you have to say the goal last week was the starting point.
“We got one point last week, we’ve got three today, so we’ve got to build on that. If we don’t, the negatives will creep back in. It is imperative that we win at Easter Road. We are a big club and we have a good following, so we have got to dominate and win games at home, because teams won’t want to go there if we get positive results.”
Manager Pat Fenlon’s job had been hanging by a thread, according to some reports, which makes his response to the crisis of going one behind to a spirited Kilmarnock all the more remarkable, particularly as Hibs’ improvement last week owed a lot to the tongue-lashing Fenlon handed out.
“He was completely different to last week,” Vine revealed. “It was fully deserved last week because we didn’t collectively and individually show what we had been showing in training.
“We all knew that our first half last week was really poor, probably the worst this season, so we wanted to start on the front foot against Kilmarnock and we did.
“We were all disappointed to be one-nil down, but there were a lot of positives from the first half and we were the better team.
“He was calm and just said ‘listen, keep doing exactly the same thing, but maybe give five or ten per cent more and we’ll go on and win the game’.”
Hibs duly did win, and Fenlon was adamant that his position had never been under threat, either despite or because of chairman Rod Petrie’s midweek backing of the manager. He also knows what needs to be done to convince the Easter Road doubters.
Fenlon said: “I meet the chairman every week and I don’t need the club to tell me (they back me) because they have backed me since I have been at the club. I just need to continue to do my job. We have won here but we have got to make sure that we make Easter Road a difficult place for people to visit and go and win some matches there.”
In terms of possession and position, it was a fairly even match over the 90 minutes, but Kilmarnock created more chances, and did not take them, while Hibs took two from their four shots on target.
Birthday boy Barry Nicholson’s magnificent goal after 23 minutes woke the game up after a quiet start. The 35-year-old belied his age as he contributed a great deal to Kilmarnock’s performance, and his 30-yard bullet to the top corner was arguably the highlight of the weekend in the Premiership.
Hibs had been the better side in the first quarter and Vine had the ball in the net after just six minutes when he finished off a slick move involving Tom Taiwo and Owain Tudur Jones, only for offside to be called – “it was one of those where I could see across the line,” said Vine, “so maybe I was offside.”
Hibs won thanks to Liam Craig’s second-half double, though they could have had at least one more as the impressive Tudur Jones was unlucky with a shot from distance that was well saved by Craig Samson.
Craig’s first was a precise header from Vine’s deep cross less than two minutes into the half, and the second an 80th minute lob over Samson after he beat ex-Hearts player Darren Barr to Lewis Stevenson’s through ball.
Barr was honest about losing out to Samson: “He got in behind me and I was caught in two minds. I should have cleared it.”
Vine appreciated the quality of Craig, his former colleague at St Johnstone: “He is similar to me in that he has come into a new team. You don’t have time to settle, but we know we have got to pick up results and I thought he was brilliant today. He is always a threat, and normally scores from further out. He pops up with goals and that is the quality he has.”
This being football where success is demanded instantaneously, the pressure switches from Fenlon to his opposite number at Rugby Park. Allan Johnston has yet to win a league match as manager at Kilmarnock, and the rumblings in the stands sounded ominous.