Hibs have been warned that the nerves and tension of tomorrow’s last-day relegation face-off with Kilmarnock will be nothing compared to what they will experience should they fail to get the win they need and are plunged into a dreaded play-off.
The Easter Road outfit last dropped out of the top flight in 1998 when Alex McLeish failed to overcome the problems left behind by the sacked Jim Duffy.
Twelve months before, however, the capital outfit flirted dangerously with relegation when they were forced into a two-legged battle with First Division Airdrie for a place in the Premier League.
Hibs prevailed, thanks to a 1-0 victory at home in the first-leg, despite having Gordon Hunter sent-off, and a 4-2 triumph at Broadwood that included an incredible four penalties and a red card for Jimmy Sandison.
Terry Butcher’s present-day outfit know they can avoid a repeat of the pressure and anxiety felt by the men in green and white 17 years ago by defeating Kilmarnock on home soil tomorrow.
But they passed up a similar opportunity on Tuesday night away to Ross County, their 1-0 defeat leaving them without a victory in their last 12 matches and with just one win in 18.
With Kilmarnock requiring just a draw to stay up, Easter Road is likely to be a place on edge tomorrow, but Pat McGinlay insists it could get a whole lot worse for Hibs.
McGinlay was a huge fans’ favourite of the time and a massive influence in their 1997 play-off success, only to go down with Hibs a year later.
The 46-year-old, who also played for Celtic and now runs Spick and Span Professional Cleaners Ltd, said: “It was a terrible time at the club that season and Hibs this weekend will have to show they are up for the game and that they have nerves of steel. I’m sure Terry Butcher is the man for the job but I think the players have to show a bit more grit and determination. They’re struggling for goals and that is a big, big problem for them.
“We had big characters in our team, we had strong individuals, and you need that and I think Hibs are lacking that.
“But now they have to show a wee bit of bottle and get that win, no matter how they get it – a flukey goal, something going in off somebody’s backside – whatever it takes to stay in the Premiership.
“In that situation down the bottom of the league everybody is struggling for confidence, everybody’s a wee bit nervy, but you have to show grit and determination.
“The crowd have to stay behind them and be the 12th man and that will give the boys, particularly the young players, a bit more confidence to try things.
“It never is nice to go through experiences like a relegation battle. It was really nervous at Hibs, it was incredible. But you have to just get your foot on the ball and go for it and take responsibility.
“It’s a big chance for everybody to show what they’ve got and hopefully they’ll get over that winning line.
“But if they don’t win this weekend and it goes down to a play-off it will be even worse. I can’t even put it into words the way that play-off with Airdrie felt, it was horrible.”
Meanwhile, experienced defender Alan Maybury has called for “strong characters” to emerge as Hibs face one final “make or break” chance to avoid the play-off spot.
The Easter Road outfit have been accused for much of the season of a lack of steel, with keeper Ben Williams himself describing the squad as “soft” and “spoiled”.
Former Republic of Ireland international Maybury said: “It’s a real test of character and we need to find it somewhere inside ourselves.
“The boys are hurting. It was a long trip back down the road [from Dingwall], but we have to clear our heads, take all the positives. I’m sick of the negatives around the club. It’s about being positive, sticking the chest out. We need strong characters.”
BT Sport Q&A: Rangers | Hibs | Neil Lennon
THIS week’s BT Sport video Q&A looks at whether Rangers fans will buy season tickets and if the club’s supporters will force a change of ownership.
The form of Hibs under Terry Butcher is also examined following the Easter Road side’s derby defeat while the future of Neil Lennon is also considered following the announcement that his assistant Johan Mjallby is to depart at the end of the season.
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