James Collins’ determinedly positive attitude will be valuable in the coming weeks as Hibernian seek to recover their poise and banish relegation play-off fears.
The striker admirably fronted up after Monday night’s defeat by Aberdeen and stressed that spirits remained high in the Easter Road dressing room.
Collins also sought to make a point by comparing his goal-scoring record to that of Leigh Griffiths in his first season at Easter Road, and reasoned that it proves even the best players “take time to adapt”. Collins, who has scored six times since his arrival last summer in a reputed £200,000 deal, was making the point that Griffiths struck only eight league goals in his first season, in 2011-12. It was in the following campaign when he really stepped up a level, scoring 28 times.
Collins is within his rights to point this out. He could also mention the scarcity of chances being created by the current Hibs side. The striker endured an unhappy time on Monday after stepping off the bench before kick-off to replace Paul Heffernan, who injured his groin in the warm-up. Despite his industry, Collins was badly served by others on a night when precious few openings were created.
However, he stresses that there is still no despondency at Easter Road, despite a run of only one win in 14 matches. This has helped deposit Terry Butcher’s side in the bottom six and, more worryingly, leaves them within four points of the relegation play-off place, currently occupied by Partick Thistle. Collins denies seventh-placed Hibs are in a relegation battle and despite evidence to the contrary during the lame 2-0 defeat on Monday, he does not believe confidence is an issue. The striker thinks Hibs will “easily” avoid slipping into play-off territory as they prepare to face St Mirren next weekend.
“It’s down to the way you look at it – we are in the bottom six but I don’t think we are really in a relegation battle,” he said. “We are top of the pile and people are chasing us. The teams below us would rather be in Hibs’ position than theirs, so that’s the way we have got to look at it and move on to St Mirren.
“It’s a tough period right now, not to have won for so long and coming off the back of the derby defeat last week,” he admitted. “It’s not great but the boys are in good spirits and we are looking forward to the next five games, because it’s going to be a big five weeks for us. We’ve got to stand up and be counted now.
“We are in the best position out of the six. We’ve dropped points and teams have caught up with us, but we are confident we are going to easily beat the drop.”
Collins described Hibs as playing “some ok stuff” against Aberdeen on Monday. “If we do that in the next few weeks then we will be ok,” he added.
He admitted that playing in the often isolated lone striker role can get “frustrating” given the lack of support. “We are working on it [getting more balls into the box] in training,” Collins said. “The gaffer knows what he wants and, if I can keep getting in there, hopefully the chances will drop.”
The chances did not always drop for Griffiths in his first season at Hibs after his loan move from Wolves. The fans’ favourite scored eight times in the league and 11 times in total after joining Hibs in August 2011. Collins arrived with a heavy responsibility on his shoulders after Pat Fenlon’s heavy investment when bringing the player to Hibs from Swindon in the hope that he could fill Griffiths’ boots.
“With Leigh Griffiths doing so well last season, that’s all I heard when I first arrived,” said Collins. “But I know Leigh Griffiths only scored eight goals in his first season here and I’ve got six so far, so maybe it takes time to adapt.”
If it is unfair to compare Collins with Griffiths at the moment, then it is equally unfair to compare him with Adam Rooney. The pair were seen having a long discussion at the end of Monday night’s match, with Rooney consoling his former team-mate at Swindon Town. Rooney has been a revelation for Aberdeen since joining in January and has already scored eight times. The Aberdeen striker has played in Scottish football before, with Inverness Caledonian Thistle, while Collins is still clearly finding his feet. Rooney is also two years older than Collins.
“I know Adam well from our time down at Swindon,” Collins explained. “He was just seeing how I was and telling me ‘unlucky’. He is a good player who has scored many goals in Scotland.
“He is playing in a good side and firing on all cylinders at the minute, so fair play to him,” Collins added, possibly wistfully.