'If we produce that type of performance' - Why Hibs boss Jack Ross is remaining positive ahead of make-or-break fixtures

Hibs manager Jack Ross spoke about the way his side’s insipid second-half showing in the Betfred Cup semi-final led to their more laudable first half performance becoming ‘lost a little bit’ in the aftermath.

But, having criticised his players’ character, guts and their ability to deal with adversity, he can only hope the same does not happen when the dust settles on the entire season.

As they negotiate their toughest spell, which has thrown up just one win, one draw and five defeats in their past seven games, it is easy to forget that until that Boxing Day defeat to Rangers there had been just three losses in their first 26 outings this term.

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Earning glowing reviews as they found ways to pick up points, they challenged at the very top of the league for a quarter of the season, before they were left vying with Celtic for second. Now, if the glass is half full, they are in a tussle with Aberdeen for third place, or, if the tumbler is half empty then they are entering into a dog-fight with Livingston for the other Europa League qualifying spot.

Hibs' Kevin Nisbet celebrates scoring earlier in the season but the Leith side have not been on target enough in recent weeks and will need to rediscover that scoring form to reinvigorate their league campaign. Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group

Ross has said he does not pay too much attention to other teams, but they, along with his own players, can still have a major say in how this season will be perceived when the curtain comes down.

There are still positives, as he proved when trotting out statistics to his players earlier this week, in an attempt to remind them of the men they had once been; the club with the third best defensive record, the third most goals scored in the league, a group of players who had attracted plaudits and the attention of international bosses.

They need to reacquaint themselves with those players, though, and soon.

Attempting to offer some context for the recent poor run, Ross pointed to the fact that the fixture card pitted them against Rangers twice and Celtic away in the last six league games. The hope, he believes, comes from the fact that they have now “got a period coming up where we believe that if we produce that type of performance, we can get back to scoring goals regularly and winning games”.

But, the performances against Rangers were decent despite the defeats and that match at Celtic Park does not feature in the loss column, leaving defeats to Ross County, Livingston and St Johnstone to account for.

Which presents a problem and suggests that none of the upcoming matches can be considered bankers to kick-start the season, not unless the Leith side dig deep within them to rediscover the calibre of player that proved capable of winning such games in the first half of the 2020/21 campaign.

This weekend they will come up against a Dundee United side who will be smarting from their midweek thrashing at the hands of a St Mirren side who await Hibs a few days later. Neither game will be a gimme.

It took a solitary Christian Doidge goal, back when Hibs found ways to grind out results, to separate the Leith side and their Tayside hosts the last time they travelled to Tannadice, while the last trip to Paisley does not serve as an accurate gauge, given the way Covid affected Jim Goodwin’s men that week. A vastly-improved side since then, Ross’s team did best them in Leith just before Christmas and are imminently capable of doing so again but possibly not on recent form.

Having netted just three goals during this seven-game slump, they need to start finding the net again if they remain serious about their pre-season targets of Europe and silverware.

Wins and a confidence boost are vital if they want to head into their home fixture with Aberdeen - a team they failed to taken even a point off in the previous two meetings - intent on challenging them for third, rather than simply needing an advantage in the chase with Livingston.

Whether fair or not, whether too miopic, Aberdeen are one of the teams Hibs are judged against and, at the moment, they are coming up short.

But if fans would like to triumph over the Pittodrie side, along with Rangers and Celtic, they absolutely expect to come out on top against the likes of Ross County, who will welcome them back to Dingwall before we are halfway through February.

When Hibs journeyed north in October, they gained a point but more clinical finishing could have converted that into three points, albeit the same could definitely be said for the Highlanders, who then proved that at Easter Road just a few weeks ago, belying their status as relegation battlers to humble a below-par Hibs side.

After that, awaits Motherwell and then Betfred Cup vanquishers St Johnstone before what could be a vital head to head with Livingston as they head towards the split.

In the second half at Hampden, that sub-standard Hibs side again showed up; a side with little bark and nowhere near enough bite, but Ross is right to believe there is still hope of a turnaround.

There was evidence of that in the first half performance in that semi-final, when they looked as fluid and as positive in possession as they have since 2020. But the issue remains goals and the primary concern must now be how to get Kevin Nisbet back on the goal trail or find a way to fill the void he has left.

If they can do that then this season need not dwindle to a conclusion mired in regret and recriminations. But, in a league where things have become very hard work, they need to recapture past form or risk all the hard work earlier in the year becoming as overlooked as their first half showing at the national stadium.

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