Deflated Hibs defender Pa Kujabi today admitted he and his team-mates were to blame for their latest derby day disappointment, having shown Capital rivals Hearts far too much respect.
Although they had promised the Gorgie outfit they would be a far different proposition to the side which succumbed in new boss Pat Fenlon’s first such clash at the beginning of January, the trip to Tynecastle was depressingly familiar as Hearts stretched their unbeaten run to ten matches.
Throughout the first half Hibs were, as Fenlon admitted, second best in every department, their opponents relentless as they sensed the game was, once again, their’s for the taking.
Never one to duck an issue, Fenlon readily conceded his players were lucky to head for the sanctuary of the away dressing-room at the interval, fortunate only to be trailing to Craig Beattie’s strike, such had been the dominance of Paulo Sergio’s side.
Fenlon undoubtedly made his displeasure evident during those 15 minutes, Hibs emerging to give a better account of themselves in the second period with the boot of Hearts goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald keeping the Easter Road side at bay as he blocked Roy O’Donovan’s downward header.
It was as close as Hibs were to get to adding to their miserable total of just two goals in five years at Tynecastle, with Hearts substitute Suso Santana racing away to net again and secure all three points with only seconds of the four minutes added on by referee Craig Thomson at the end of the game remaining, the Jambos’ third win of the season over their city neighbours.
The diminutive Spaniard’s strike may have had little bearing on the outcome of the match but it did emphasise the dominance not only on the day but over the past three years in which they’ve reigned and ensuring the dark cloud which has descended on Easter Road on such occasions won’t lift until next season at least.
Gambian internationalist Kujabi today admitted he was at a loss to explain just why Fenlon’s side were so feckless for 45 minutes, revealing the talk all week had been on addressing Hibs’ dismal record and how to address it.
Had Hearts’ unbeaten run preyed on their minds? “I don’t know,” Kujabi said. “I was told Hearts had been winning so many games and we had to start winning ourselves.
“It was most definitely bitterly disappointing. We just did not get started and the game could have been over by half-time. I think we showed them too much respect.”
Kujabi similarly didn’t have a definitive answer as to why that should be, saying: “It’s just like that in football. Sometimes you do not want to make mistakes but you have to start at the beginning and show them you are also hungry.
“But right from the beginning they were coming and coming. That’s football.”
Despite Hearts having bossed the opening 45 minutes, Kujabi believed Hibs had done enough thereafter to earn themselves a point, although other than MacDonald’s save from O’Donovan and a mild scare when he flapped at a David Wotherspoon cross, the home side weren’t panicked.
Fenlon would no doubt have hoped for better from Leigh Griffiths and substitute Garry O’Connor when presented with free-kicks around 25 yards out, the former blasting his effort high and wide while the latter only managed to fire his effort into the defensive wall.
Kujabi was a touch bashful when asked if he hadn’t fancied his chances, the little left-back having attained the sobriquet of Gambia’s Roberto Carlos not only for his desire to get forward but with the sort of shot which he dispatched from 35 yards during a trial with Queens Park Rangers last summer.
O’Connor and Griffiths were the club’s top scorers, he pointed out, although you’d imagine Fenlon won’t be long in asking him to try his luck in such situations if others can’t even work the opposition goalkeeper.
With Hibs again toothless in front of goal in Gorgie, it was left to Suso Santana to apply the coup de grace, although Kujabi argued his strike counted for little other than altering the complexion of the final scoreline with the game having already been won.
Kujabi said: “I thought Roy was a bit unlucky but we worked hard in the second half. Unfortunately when everyone is pushing for an equaliser, hoping for a goal even in the last minute of the game, the risk you run is being hit on the counter attack and that’s what happened.
“You can’t just settle for a 1-0 defeat in any game far less a derby, you have to keep trying to get something and a second goal for Hearts makes the final scoreline look better for them and worse for us.
“No-one likes to lose a derby. It’s your big rivals and you know how much it means to the fans but apart from the result I enjoyed the game, though. I liked the fans of both sides and the atmosphere they created, it was nice to play in.”
Defeat brought disappointment on another level for Hibs, the opportunity to widen the gap between themselves and bottom club Dunfermline in the battle to avoid relegation from the SPL missed, although the Leith side still enjoy a four-point advantage.
The Pars, of course, sacked manager Jim McIntyre in what appears to be a desperate last throw of the dice, the obvious hope being that his replacement can spark a last-gasp rally at the Fife club. But while admitting that was something to be wary of, Kujabi insisted he and his team-mates must take care of themselves rather than worry about anything Dunfermline might do.
He said: “I’m sure they’ll be looking for a lift with a new manager coming in, for him to motivate the players but we are not looking behind us, that’s not a good thing to do. A seven-point lead would have been nice but we are still ahead, focused on looking forward, it’s what we do that counts.
“We have another big game against Dundee United this weekend. We’ll be working hard this week and looking forward to doing our best in that one and hopefully winning it.”