AS CAPTAIN of the Hibernian team who were relegated in May, Liam Craig is acutely aware he bears a debt of responsibility to the club’s anguished supporters and knows it will take considerable time to pay back.
Craig was signed by Pat Fenlon and made captain for the ill-fated 2013-14 campaign and, when the Irishman departed, he retained the armband under Terry Butcher. But, as Hibs’ season turned sour, the captain, by his own admission, came nowhere near to reproducing the form he had shown for his previous club St Johnstone.
After finishing second bottom of the Premiership then dramatically losing on penalties to Hamilton Accies in the play-off, Craig was initially told by Butcher he would be expected to move on. But, when the former England captain was sacked and Alan Stubbs was appointed in his place, Craig not only was handed an unexpected second chance – but was also retained as club captain.
After a sticky start in the Championship, which saw 27-year-old Craig dropped on a couple of occasions, his form has started to return and he finally got back on the scoresheet in last weekend’s 2-1 Scottish Cup victory at Alloa. The midfielder insists he has plenty more to prove to the fans, however, after the pain of last season.
“I was as big to blame as anyone else – I’d never put the blame on anyone else,” said Craig. “I said at the end of last season some fans will never forgive you for what happened last year, and rightly so. It was a disaster.
“But all I can do is try and play well every week and score goals and win games for Hibs. As long as I can do that, I’m on the right track. Scoring goals is something I have to add back to my game. My game is based on getting goals, and the one against Alloa last week was my first since 10 January. Nearly a full year without a goal is a long time, but it was great to get it and I want to build on it.”
Speaking ahead of today’s Championship fixture at Falkirk, he added: “It’s such a great club and you just want to do well for it. If I’d left in the summer that would have been the biggest regret, because we didn’t do well last year and you can’t hide away from that.
“And I look at myself as much as anything. Yes, there was other stuff here that I could probably not have done anything about, but you have to look at yourself. I’m just happy now that I’m still here, playing and scoring. We’ve not turned it round, but we’re definitely going in that direction.”
Craig credits the influence of Stubbs for his upturn in form and believes the manager has Hibs pulling together and approaching the level of consistency they have been aiming for.
The Easter Road side’s only recent setback, if you can call it even that, was their League Cup quarter-final defeat on penalties to Dundee United after a rousing 3-3 draw. Other than that blip, Hibs haven’t tasted defeat since losing 1-0 at Queen of the South in September.
“We’re not successful yet – we’re still fourth in the league and we’re not going to get carried away,” said Craig. “But, right from the off when I spoke to the manager, I think the biggest thing he did was come in and restore confidence and belief in them. I think he did that right away.”
Indeed, Craig says the arrival of Stubbs convinced him to stay at Hibs and start making amends.
He added: “I had a good conversation with the manager at the start of the season – you knew right from the off that he was the man that could really kick Hibs forward, and I think he’s doing that. Like I say, it’s not going to happen overnight, and there’s still a long way to go, but I think we’re seeing now that we’re getting there.
“We need to show that again on Saturday. We’ve done well in the last few weeks, but we’ve got a big period coming up with games against Falkirk, Alloa, Raith Rovers, Rangers and Hearts.
“At the start of the season the performance wasn’t that far away from what we wanted it to be, but in terms of goals we were miles away. We’ve added that to our game recently, and the good thing is there are goals coming from everywhere.
“There’s no panic. Maybe at the start of the season that element was there from last season, but look at last weekend at Alloa – even when we went a goal down there was no panic, and we had the confidence to get the goals to get us into the next round of the cup.”
Craig started his career at Falkirk and – by marriage – has a connection to the club. He explained: “I think it’s seven years since I left – but it’s still a great club and I’m looking forward to going back.
“My wife still works there part time – I met her there. She wants a win on Saturday as well, because she won’t get a win bonus if Falkirk win.”