Scott Robertson already knows how it feels to be drawn into a relegation mix that had once seemed someone else’s worry.
The Hibs midfielder was with Dundee in 2005 when the Dens Park side, having been nine points clear of bottom place with six games remaining, picked the wrong time to embark on a losing run.
It was enough to take them to the bottom of the league on the final day of the season, when they needed a win at Livingston to stay up. They drew and were relegated. Robertson watched most of this unfold from his place among the substitutes on that bleak afternoon, although the then 20 year-old did come on a few minutes from the end of a game that finished 1-1. “The last game of the season was too big a game for me so [then Dundee manager] Jim Duffy put me on the bench,” recalled Robertson yesterday. “I don’t want another dose of last-day nerves,” he added, as he turned his attention to the task that faces Hibs over the coming seven days. Terry Butcher’s side have three games in which to ensure they do not finish in a relegation play-off place.
Robertson has urged his team-mates to prove to the unhappy Hibs supporters that they have enough mettle to cope with the situation. He is aware that it can show the true worth of players, some of whom prove they are unable to cope with the pressure. Others, of course, are able to excel in these high-pressure circumstances.
“When players are playing with emotion, that’s when you get the best or worst out of people,” he said. “It just depends which emotion. If it’s fear then people hide. If it’s real desire to go and do your best that’s when you see the best of people. It’s about going out to prove people wrong. That’s when you see who is made of the strong stuff and that’s what we need.”
Now 29, Robertson has recently been restored to the Hibs starting XI after injury. He is relieved to be able to contribute more meaningfully as the Easter Road side try to prevent being dragged further towards the lower division.
Hibs need to beat Partick Thistle this afternoon in order to arrest a slump that has stretched to six consecutive defeats. As with Dundee nine years ago, it is the wrong time to start losing, although Robertson cannot see the similarities between the two situations. “That whole season [with Dundee] we played with the threat of automatic relegation,” he recalled. “Just before the split we got ourselves nine points clear. Everyone thought that was us safe, but we ended up only getting two points after the split. That’s how we went down”
As for Hibs, he explained, it has been a sudden decline –although some fans might argue with his interpretation. “Until six weeks ago we were chasing the top six and at one point we were closing in on Dundee United in fifth at the turn of the year,” Robertson reflected. “Since then we haven’t picked up enough points to stay in touch with those teams.”
Robertson conceded that Hibs have been “on a bit of a downward spiral”. However, he was encouraged by last weekend’s performance in the defeat to Hearts, which was his own first start since January. “We thought we deserved to take more from the game. We’re going to try and take that into this weekend, focusing on what we’re going to do rather than looking to the past,” he said.
When Robertson began his absence through injury, Hibs were indeed looking up the way up rather than down. However, only one victory since then has meant they are now firmly involved in a battle to avoid finishing in a relegation play-off position. “It was incredibly frustrating because we were doing well around Christmas and new year,” said Robertson, who was sidelined due to a knee injury. “We were on a good little run, catching up with the top six and we had a good way of playing, causing teams problems. Since that spell the manager hasn’t been able to name the same starting line-up for two consecutive games with injuries and suspensions.”
The grim position in which Hibs now find themselves was highlighted by the presence of chairman Rod Petrie at the training ground last weekend.
Butcher explained earlier this week that he had invited Petrie to watch the preparations, and then offered him the chance to say something to the players ahead of the derby. While some players might have treated a chairman addressing them before a vital game with something approaching disdain, Robertson welcomed Petrie’s intervention. He said: “Everyone knows the chairman’s quite a quiet man, who keeps himself to himself, but he said a few words before the derby and we took some encouragement from that. There was nothing that anyone else wouldn’t say. He just wanted us to win the derby, like any fan.
“Just seeing him around training that day and listening to him speak, you could sense his passion and I don’t think people get to see that very often,” he added. “We hadn’t really seen it so it was good to see him in and around the place.”