Such is the “one-game-at-a time” mentality favoured at Hibernian this term, the disappointment of Saturday’s draw with Ayr United will already have been consigned to history. The popular mantra dictates that the next game – whoever that is against – is always the most important.
But if they are to emerge from this Sunday’s capital clash with the glory, they will have to look back and learn lessons from this below-par showing.
In the wake of the draw, the players and manager insisted that the Scottish Cup fifth- round tie with city neighbours Hearts had not been a distraction, but something knocked them off their stride and it took them until the second half to start trying to right the wrongs that had allowed Ian McCall’s men to take a fourth-minute lead and resolutely defend it as Hibs struggled to find the shape and the tempo required to pose too many problems.
Rab Crawford had been the man to cash in, making a mockery of the miserly reputation the Easter Road rearguard has gained. Picking up the ball just inside the home half, he drove at goal, Liam Fontaine kept backing off him, and by the time anyone stuck a boot in, as he broke into box, he skipped round them and sent a low shot in on Ross Laidlaw, who let the trundler roll under him and over the line.
United only saw positives but it was the negatives that battered Hibs around the head. They shuffled personnel and created enough chances to win in the end but, as has been the issue several times already this term, they couldn’t convert a big enough percentage and had to settle for a headed equaliser from Jason Cummings in the 74th minute.
It wasn’t a brutal blow to their Championship hopes – they remain six points clear of Dundee United – but the fall-out will be felt by some of those involved, according to manager Neil Lennon, who said he now has to reassess his starting line-up for the trip to Tynecastle on Sunday.
Hearts assistant manager Austin MacPhee made it back from his side’s lunchtime victory over Motherwell in time to take in some of the game but John McGinn, a player who knows him well from their time together at St Mirren, said he will have learned very little from a display that could be described as an aberration.
But McGinn does respect MacPhee and he knows that he and manager Ian Cathro could cause them problems.
“I saw that [he was here]. He’s a great guy, a hard worker and it’s good to see him back in Scotland. I’ll maybe have a word with him this week just to ease off a bit! But [at St Mirren] he was very intricate, very detailed in his training sessions. There was an end goal to every session. All the boys enjoyed it so it’s no surprise Hearts have turned it round. He leaves no stone unturned and worked a lot on the set-pieces and analysing the other team. If there’s a weakness, he’ll exploit it. It’s up to us to make sure that we play much better this week and get a result.”
McGinn is also looking forward to going up against his ex-Paisley team-mate Esmael Goncalves, although he is hoping he has a disappointing Edinburgh derby debut.
“He was a great signing for us when he came to St Mirren. He was very raw. When I watched the Rangers game in midweek, he had added a lot to his game. He’s much leaner now, he’s sharp but he’s still as strong as ever. He’s a top talent and he likes working with Austin, who will bring the best out of him. But I hope he has an off day next week.”
One game at a time, the focus this week is on the cup and, while McGinn would relish retaining the trophy they won last year, he says it is the games against the likes of Ayr United that will determine just how successful Hibs’ season will be.
“Everything is set for this club to be a Premiership one, but we are down here for a reason. We weren’t good enough last year or the year before to get promoted. It’s something that’s been bugging us. Everyone here is desperate to get promotion. Last year was amazing, with everything that happened, but at the end of the day, we failed. We never got promoted. And I don’t want to be classed as a failure again.”