HIBERNIAN captain Michael Nelson believes not one of the Easter Road team that played in the 3-1 defeat away to Partick Thistle a week ago could have any comeback if they were left out for the club’s crucial encounter at Perth this afternoon.
Reeling from the abject surrender in Maryhill, Terry Butcher threatened post-match to throw in group of youngsters for the St Johnstone confrontation that the capital side must win to avoid a fourth straight season scrapping in the bottom six post-split. The Hibs manager’s stance on his team selection for McDiarmid Park today has since appeared to soften, but Nelson considers any grumbling from those Butcher does choose to banish will be futile.
“It doesn’t matter if we have complaints or not, if he wants to put the kids in, he’ll do it. We won’t change his mind,” the 33-year-old said. “You can’t go in shouting and bawling that you deserve to be in the team when you’ve just been beaten, regardless if you’ve won the previous six before that. You are only as good as your last game.
“You can go and sit in the manager’s office for two hours after he’s named the team but I’ve never seen a dropped player walk out of a manager’s office having been put back in the team. There’s no point going in shouting and bawling – it’ll only put you further away from getting back in the team.
“It’s up to the manager to pick the team. Some players like to go in and put their point across and some will put their heads down and get on with it. It’s out of our hands. Whether you are 18 or 34, it makes no difference. The only way to stay in the team is play well and win games. Sometimes that even isn’t enough.”
It would be enough for Butcher, who pointed out earlier this week that, in his previous posting at Inverness, he named an unchanged starting XI for the first eight league games of the season. It certainly helped that the Highland club won six and drew one of these games. Injuries aside, Butcher now finds himself having to reshape the Hibs team every week because nothing is working. One win in ten Premiership outings testifies to that grim fact.
Nelson accepts that Hibs have become the sort of team opponents love to play against. They almost invariably lose the first goal in games, often on the back of seeming to be in control of them. “Against Partick, for all the pressure we had in the first half, we didn’t capitalise on it. Then they did what we had been doing – got down the side, cut it back – and got a goal from it. We went in 1-0 down when the worst it should have been was 0-0.
“Look at the Motherwell game the other week. That was as good as we’ve started all season. We had a shot or corner within 45 seconds and we put them under pressure but, 11 minutes in, we were a goal down. You have to punish teams when you are on top because you don’t know how long you are going to be on top for. When the other team has a spell, you need to weather the storm. In the 3-3 with Motherwell, we fought back well and it was disappointing we didn’t hang for the win. But it’s a long time since we have gone a goal up and hammered it home.”
Whatever the outcome today, St Johnstone look odds-on to ensure the top six remains out of Hibs’ reach in sitting four points better off than them with a game in hand as we prepare for the last fortnight of pre-split fixtures. Nelson, though, maintains now is not the time for Hibs to start looking behind them; and at the possibility of being dragged into struggle to avoid finishing in the relegation play-off place. He would only look down “when you can’t go any higher up the table”.
“When the gap gets too big for you to move up, you just try to stay where you are,” he said.
Nelson talks impressively and with the demeanour of the team leader he has become since he was handed the captaincy following an injury to Liam Craig, who is now fit-again but has had to settle for a place on the bench in recent weeks. The much-travelled Englishman takes pride in having been asked to skipper “most of the clubs” he has played for – spells at Norwich, Kilmarnock, Hartlepool, Scunthorpe and Bury covering the greater part of his career But he insisted: “A bit of cloth round my arm doesn’t affect me one bit. If you need to have that status of being captain to get something out of your game, you can’t really be doing it right for the rest of the season. An armband shouldn’t make a blind bit of difference to your approach. Others might see it as added responsibility or that I should be stepping up to the mark but I try to do that every single game, captain or not.”