RESULTS at Tynecastle have not gone Hibernian’s way this season, but they were certainly glad of the one on Saturday. Had Ross County beaten Hearts rather than losing 2-0, Terry Butcher’s team would have been just a point above the play-off place rather than the three-point margin they actually have.
Even so, that fact can surely provide no more than the scantest consolation to Hibs. They cannot rely on Ross County, nor any of their other competitors, continuing to lose: in this tight five-way scrap they need to impose themselves on their rivals – which is precisely what they have not been doing.
The match in Paisley was the fourth in a row Hibs have lost 2-0. The one before that, they lost 3-1. Nine games have now passed since their last victory.
On Saturday, Ben Williams had to pick the ball out of his net in the first minute, and was beaten again before quarter of an hour was up. For a goalkeeper who, by and large, has maintained a decent standard of play this season, such results are deeply frustrating, and Williams made no effort to hide his emotions when he spoke after the match.
“People will say that Hibs have been soft this season and we have been, without a shadow of a doubt,” the 31-year-old said. “Honestly, we’ve been soft. We’re spoiled. We have a fantastic ground and a fantastic training ground.
“As a group of players, we say the same things, the manager says the same things and I dare say the fans are sick of hearing the same things. What we aren’t doing is performing on the pitch. That’s what we need to address and it starts on Sunday in the derby.”
This time the derby is at Easter Road, but home advantage will count for nothing unless Hibs are able to withstand the pressure better than they have done against their Edinburgh rivals. That pressure was supposedly all on Hearts at the end of last month, when a loss to Hibs would have confirmed their relegation. But there was no denying which side was more able to handle the magnitude of the situation, as Gary Locke’s team grabbed an early opening goal through Dale Carrick before Billy King scored the second in stoppage time. For years now, perhaps decades, there has been a widespread perception that Hibs cannot handle the occasion of a derby. That perception has become all the more acute this season, when the smallest and least experienced Hearts squad of the past 30 years has won three out of four derbies, only losing the other one to a late, avoidable penalty.
“That’s warranted, to be honest,” Williams said of that perception. “It’s the time to nail it. We can’t turn in a performance like we have been in a derby because we will lose. That’s all that matters. For the fans and everyone attached to the club, all that matters is the result against Hearts.
“You can have all the ability in the world, but if you don’t apply it on the pitch or mentally, it won’t be there. You’re going to leave yourself wanting. We can’t be doing that. We have four games, starting with Hearts. People throw around clichés about must-win games and each game is a cup final, but they really are.
“We have four games now to define the season, otherwise we’re going to be in a play-off against a team who has all the momentum going into it and have a prize at the end of it. They will be trying to gain a Premiership spot and we will be fighting to stay in it. At the moment, we don’t look like we deserve to.
“As a group we need to show character, and we need to show that we are playing for the club. At the moment, we’re not. We’re letting the club down. We’re letting the supporters down. We’re letting everyone who pays us a wage down.”
Hibs’ present plight is all the harder to explain because immediately after Terry Butcher arrived from Inverness they went on a good run which took them to the brink of the top six. One theory about the club’s subsequent downturn is that the new manager made it all too clear that he did not rate some players, and that they would be deemed surplus to requirements in the summer.
But Williams, who will shortly be out of contract himself, suggested that even those players who will shortly leave Easter Road had no excuse for letting their standards slip.
“It’s not for me to answer in terms of people’s futures,” he said. “But what I will say is that if your future is at this club or at another club, you have to put the work and desire in. Because someone somewhere is watching and there will be a club that you want to turn up and earn a living at.
“This is a platform for you to do that. You have to be honest with yourself. You have to go into every game wanting to win and demanding to win.
“Now it’s not possible, but you can demand it of yourself and each other. And you can honestly earn your wage, which is what we need to do.
“When the manager came in there was a change. We only conceded two goals in eight games. We had steel, we had determination – all the attributes you would want in a team. Then when things started not to go our way, we look as if we have lost our way. We’ve had great possession in games. Against St Mirren we dominated the second half, as you would expect against ten men. We were knocking on the door, but we just couldn’t put the ball in the back of the net.
“We need to demand more from each other to do it. As I said, we’re letting everyone down just now.”
Williams may want to stay at Easter Road, but he certainly does not think now is the time for him to demand negotiations about a new deal. Apart from anything else, until they know what division they will be in, Hibs cannot start planning properly for next season.
“I haven’t had talks, because at the moment the future of the whole club is uncertain,” he explained. “I don’t expect to be banging on the door, because we’re losing games.
“The future of the club needs sorting out first. As players, that’s what we need to do.”