IT may be the final SPL match of the season, but as far as Hibs star Scott Robertson is concerned, there is still all to play for as he prepares to face his boyhood heroes Dundee for the first time in his career.
Three points against a team doomed to First Division football next season would clinch seventh spot for the Easter Road outfit, Pat Fenlon’s players having leapfrogged both Kilmarnock and Aberdeen with their win at Rugby Park in midweek, and, following their derby day triumph at Tynecastle, complete a memorable six days with three successive wins. That is a feat the Capital side have achieved just once this season.
Top of the bottom half isn’t quite where Fenlon and Co saw themselves a few months ago, but, with 48 points already garnered, Hibs have guaranteed their highest finish since 2010, a fair barometer, one would think, of progress having been made.
But as focused as those chosen by Fenlon to bring the curtain down in front of the Hibs support are, they’d be forgiven if their minds strayed ahead eight days and to the Scottish Cup final against Celtic, knowing tomorrow’s match may represent, for some of them at least, one last chance to remind their boss of exactly why their name should feature in his Hampden squad.
There’s a growing feeling that, at long last, Fenlon’s players are beginning to find a bit of momentum, unbeaten in their last five matches since that dramatic second half comeback to stun Falkirk in the cup semi-final, leaving the SPL season’s finale to offer, hopefully, a further boost to the confidence of both those on the pitch and those roaring them on from the sidelines.
Having scored his first goal for Hibs since making the January transfer window move from Blackpool as he opened the scoring in the 3-1 win over Kilmarnock 48 hours ago, former Dundee United midfielder Robertson counts himself among those still seeking to convince Fenlon – although supplying the pass for Ross Caldwell to score that last-gasp winner against Hearts will, he believes, also count in his favour.
The 28-year-old said: “Rugby Park was my first full 90 minutes since the last derby at Easter Road.
“It was nice to come on and make a contribution at Tynecastle and I was delighted to get that overdue first goal against Killie.
“There’s been two great finishes in those matches. We’ve turned what looked like being draws into wins and that’s four extra points we’ve managed to sneak in the final five minutes of our last two games to put ourselves in a good position. If we weren’t going to finish in the top six we wanted to be top of the bottom half and we can do that with a win tomorrow.
“It’s our last home game of the season, the one before the cup final, so hopefully the fans will come along and be treated to an exciting match. Everyone is gearing up for the cup final, of course. The manager is looking to shape his team for that and I’m hoping that having scored the other night I’ve given myself a shot of starting again.
“If we can get another three points we’ll have finished the season strongly after a very poor period from January to April and I feel we are getting a bit of momentum going again. Personally, I know I have not hit the heights I should have been hitting, so while I’m looking forward to tomorrow and then the cup final, I’m also beginning to look forward to next season when I believe I can definitely deliver more for Hibs.”
Having been a Dundee fan as a boy, Robertson naturally feels for the Dens Park outfit, pitched into the SPL with only a few days notice having spent last summer preparing for the First Division – a challenge which proved beyond the Dark Blues, even if they did go down fighting following the replacement of manager Barry Smith with John Brown for the final few weeks of the season.
And although bitterly disappointed to see them relegated, Robertson admitted to a certain sense of relief that Dundee’s destiny didn’t rest on the outcome of tomorrow’s match, which at one stage looked a distinct possibility as the Tayside club strung together successive wins against Kilmarnock, St Mirren and Hearts.
All hope was lost, though, as Brown’s men drew at home to Aberdeen, a controversial match in which the Dons equalised with a Niall McGinn penalty awarded after Peter Pawlett went down in the box, the youngster later accepting a two-match ban for “simulation” – just as he did last season following a similar incident against Hibs at Pittodrie.
Robertson said: “I’ve played against Dundee in a couple of friendlies, but this will be the first time I’ve faced them on a competitive basis since I left Dens Park five years ago. I was a boyhood fan – they are a great wee club.
“I feel absolutely sorry for them, especially the way it happened. I know they lost to Killie after that draw with Aberdeen, but it had gone for them by then. It would have been interesting had they kept their run going. A bit of me is thankful it didn’t come down to the last day of the season, but if it had I am a Hibs player now and I wouldn’t have let that come in to it.
“I don’t think there’s anyone left on the playing side since I was there, but I do know the staff behind the scenes. I played with Barry Smith and really felt for him. It was a big ask with the way it all started, a touch crazy and not ideal at all. I don’t know which manager could have prepared for the SPL in the space of a few days.
“Dundee might have nothing to play for tomorrow, but sometimes that can throw up a good game.
“There’s no pressure on them, they’ll have the freedom in that sense although a lot of their players will be looking to impress. So it won’t be an easy game.”