HIBERNIAN always knew they would be up against it in their bid to claim a top-six place in the final round of fixtures before the split, but defeat by Celtic was a bitter blow nonetheless.
In the event, even a victory would not have been enough on Saturday, as Dundee United would still have been a point ahead. But the manner of the 3-0 loss was worrying, especially with the Scottish Cup semi-final against Falkirk coming up on Saturday.
“It’s disappointing,” Hibs captain James McPake said. “Our aim at the start of the season was to finish in the top six. We’re a big club in terms of Scottish football, so we should be looking to finish as high up the league as possible, and the top six should be a minimum for us.
“But we’ve no divine right, and our form recently hasn’t been good enough. It’s unfortunate, but we’ve got to move on quickly. We’ve got another huge game coming up on Saturday, so we’ve got to get the heads right.
“We didn’t do enough, not just to win the game but to play a part in the game. You need to be bigger and stronger. That doesn’t mean bigger in height or strength. You just need to be bigger to take the ball in areas and get the ball down and play.
“That’s not a criticism of anybody in our team: it’s a criticism of the full team.”
While many Hibs supporters might well feel that defeat by Falkirk would effectively end their season, McPake insisted that his team still had a lot to play for in the league as well as in the cup. “At our football club I don’t think anything can add to the importance of the Scottish Cup. But I think we’ve still got a lot to play for in the bottom six – we want to finish top of that mini-league.
“We’ve got another derby out of it, which we’ll be desperate to win as well. It doesn’t make the semi-final more important, because there is still a lot to play for this season and that’s what we’ve got to remember. It’s not a failure if we finish seventh in the league or we go out and do well in the last part of the season.
“You look where we were last season: to be sitting here at Celtic Park gutted at not winning the game, and being a fine margin for not getting in the top six – I think that itself shows the improvement.
“We’re disappointed at the goals we lost, but we know we’re a decent enough side if it comes to playing anybody in a one-off game.”