Alan MAYBURY today admitted he and his Easter Road team-mates have to stop putting goalkeeper Ben Williams on the spot – or face paying the penalty,
“Big Ben” has already saved four penalties this season, including the stunning stop from Aberdeen’s Scott Vernon which secured Hibs’ place in the last eight of the William Hill Scottish Cup, Williams having denied another Dons hitman Niall McGinn only seven days earlier.
And with Motherwell’s Michael Higdon having blasted another over the bar only one of the six spot-kicks he’s faced has ended up in the back of the net – the one conceded by Maybury as former Hibs star Kevin McBride sealed a shock 3-1 win for basement outfit Dundee at Dens Park in November.
Tonight’s opponents St Johnstone know full well themselves Williams’ impressive record, the goalkeeper leaving the Perth outfit bewildered and bemused as he not only blocked substitute Nigel Hasselbaink’s effort from 12 yards but somehow got to his feet to deny Easter Road-bound Liam Craig from the rebound.
Three minutes later Pat Fenlon’s side took full advantage of that escape as Paul Cairney claimed the only goal of the match, a result which, Maybury insists, highlights just how fine the line between success and failure can be in virtually every SPL match.
So tight have so many matches been that, incredibly, with almost two-thirds of the fixtures gone only eight points separate second top Inverness Caley from second bottom St Mirren.
It has been virtually impossible to predict the outcome of any game all season, a major reason why Hibs remain in fourth place and are still very much in the running for that coveted runners-up spot despite having won only one of their last nine league matches, albeit against champions Celtic.
Four other games ended in draws with the defeats, other than a 3-0 demolition by Inverness, all by a single goal. Fenlon’s players have conceded just four goals in their last seven SPL games but have managed only three of their own.
But while admitting it’s not been the best of times recently for a side which shocked their opponents with an impressive start to the campaign veteran defender Maybury insisted the cup victory over Aberdeen which set up a quarter-final clash with Kilmarnock early next month, can kick-start their season.
The 34-year-old said: “It’s been a bit stop start for us. We’ve had a couple of good draws, but not enough over the last ten games or so. But everyone is going to have a spell like that over a season. We got off to such a good start and have kind of fallen away recently. But hopefully we’ll take some confidence from the good results against Celtic and Hearts and getting through to the next round of the Cup. It’s really kicking on that’s important.”
A bad run but still fourth tells it’s own story. Maybury said: “The whole league has just tightened up. If anyone can put any sort of run together between now and the end of the season they are really going to kick on.”
While Maybury concedes there were perhaps matches earlier in the season when Hibs boasted the best home record in the SPL where the opposition felt more than a touch sore at the final outcome then so, too, does he believe there’s been times recently when he and his team-mates have deserved more from a game.
He said: “Over a season things will even themselves out. If you are in the mix going into the split then if you win two or three games after it you can finish second so there is all to play for.
“You just need to keep picking up points, If you lose one, make sure it’s not two, that sort of thing, that if you have a bad run you don’t go two, three, or four games not picking up anything. Things are a lot steadier this year, there’s been a big turnaround and speaking to people at the club the atmosphere is a lot better but that comes from results and we had a good start.
“Now we’ve had a bit of a bad run but there have been some good results in there as well, so we focus on the positives.
“You have to take confidence from the good results. Earlier in the season we were free-scoring, we went a long spell with two goals a game, every game. But we were also shipping goals. Now we’ve tightened that up a bit but we aren’t scoring so many.
“You go through this every season so it’s just a case of doing the right things and have moments in a game like [last] Sunday, a wonder goal from Gary Deegan and the saves from Ben late on that got us through.
Saints boss Steve Lomas falls firmly into the category of those who believe his team has been hard-done-by against Hibs, claiming Fenlon’s side had done nothing to merit a two-goal win at Easter Road earlier in the season and then bemoaning Williams’s double save at McDiarmid Park.
Conceding that had Hasselbaink scored from the spot that night then, with only 11 minutes remaining, Saints would most likely have won, Maybury said: “Possibly they feel they deserved more but I don’t think there was a lot in the game.
“They probably did the basics a little better than us on the night, playing the percentages on a frosty, bobbly pitch and had they scored the penalty they could well have won because it was so late on. But Ben was top class, he saved it and we went right up the park and took the chance we got.”
Such have been the heroics of Williams some of his team-mates have been suggesting they now expect him to save every spot-kick he faces but Maybury, who knows the goalkeeper from their days together alongside Vernon at Colchester United, said: “We were laughing with Ben after the Aberdeen game because with all that went on with him people seemed to have forgotten Deegs has put one in off the bar from 35 yards.
“I think Ben had a good idea where Scott was going to put his penalty, he likes to bend them into the corner. Afterwards Ben said he thought because it was so late in the game it would be something of a smash and there’s not a lot you can do about them. The odds are massively against the keeper but there is a lot of homework goes on with the goalkeeping coach and video analysis before every game so he has a fair idea where everything is going to go at set pieces. It’s all those little details.
“Six penalties, though, are probably away too many, but Ben has done well for us. Some of the saves he made against Aberdeen I would expect him to make but when you are under pressure and there’s a bombardment coming into the box then we are not going to win everything. People will get chances but Ben has been top class.
“Goalkeepers are there to make saves but Ben has probably had too many recently. If we are a little more open and are winning games 2-1 or 3-2 then we will take that, but if it’s a 1-0 win and we are having to rely on him and the lads doing the work in front of him then we will take that as well.”