Hibs: Caley hoodoo hasn't hexed Hart

THERE'S one statistic which will stand Michael Hart apart as he and his Easter Road team-mates make the long journey to Inverness this afternoon. He's actually tasted victory over Caley in Inverness, something Hibs have failed to do in all nine of their previous visits to the Tulloch Stadium.

But as he prepared to board the team coach bound for the banks of the Moray Firth, Hart refused to subscribe to the widely held view that Caley's ground exerts some form of mystic hold over the Edinburgh club, call it a jinx, a hoodoo or whatever.

Although the right back cannot remember suffering a defeat at Inverness during his years with Aberdeen, he admitted he was at a loss to explain Hibs' miserable record in the Highlands, one which Tony Mowbray, John Collins, Mixu Paatelainen and now Colin Calderwood have all failed to break.

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Being reminded that the best Hibs have managed in six years of making the 150 mile journey up the A9 full of expectation only to begin the return journey in varying degrees of despair, were a couple of draws, brings a grimace to Hart's face.

Immediately, though, he offers what has become the oft-repeated hope that this, finally, can be the match in which Hibs emerge victorious. He said: "To be honest, I don't look at statistics and the like but you can't help people telling you there's a hoodoo.

"I don't think you can explain what's happened in the past. Usually you get individual players who, for some reason, have one particular ground where they don't enjoy playing. When that happens you hope you get a few of the boys to help pull you through.

"But this is a different season, a different game, a different Hibs team and we have to hope we can go there and get the win."

What hasn't changed, though, is the fact few teams relish the journey, the longest for any SPL side, or the open nature of the small ground. And don't forget the fact that Caley boss Terry Butcher has put together a highly competitive team, one which narrowly missed out on a top-six finish last season.

Hart said: "It's a difficult place to go, possibly the worst in the league. It's a small ground, open to the elements and that's why they do so well where they are. They are also a good side, well-organised and very difficult to beat."

Last week's 3-0 hammering by Motherwell would appear to undermine that last assertion, Butcher's side having lost long-serving players such as Grant Munro, Stuart Golabek, Russell Duncan and Roy McBain, not to mention Adam Rooney, scorer of 21 goals last season.

However Hart, a former team-mate of Caley goalkeeper Ryan Esson at Pittodrie, insisted no-one should be taken in by the result at Fir Park. He said: "I haven't seen the goals from that game but Ryan tells me Caley had two really good chances to score before Motherwell got their first one.

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"He says the scoreline flattered Motherwell but you are judged on goals - Caley missed their chances, Motherwell took three. That's football."

Hibs' first day of the new season also didn't go as Calderwood and his players might have hoped as they went down 2-0 to Celtic, Anthony Stokes' opener courtesy of a howler from goalkeeper Graham Stack and the second from Ki Sung Yueng aided by a mis-placed pass from Lewis Stevenson.

But while a further 37 matches remain, Hart, who watched the action from the stand, admitted Hibs need to get their season up-and-running as quickly as possible. He said: "We've all watched the game again on television, if you hold them to half-time you are in with a chance.

"You cannot, though, give them cheap goals. Stacky held his hands up for the first one, a nightmare, but at 1-0 down we were still playing all right. However, if you give the ball away as we did for the second to a team of Celtic's quality you are never going to get back into the game.

"I don't think we were expected to win, but I thought the boys did okay. It was only the first game but the quicker we start putting points on the board the better, confidence grows and you can build from there."

Having missed the visit of Celtic, following an ankle injury picked up in the second pre-season game at Livingston, Hart now has his fingers crossed Calderwood will include him in tomorrow's squad after he played the entire 90 minutes in Tuesday night's friendly at Blackpool.

It was his first full match since facing Celtic in Glasgow at the beginning of April and if some of his team-mates were cursing the trip to Lancashire, the 31-year-old was personally delighted to find the game pencilled into Hibs' schedule.

He said: "It was good to get 90 minutes, both mentally and physically. I'm a wee bit away from full match fitness but I'm ready if the manager picks me. I thought the defence did okay last weekend so I'll understand if he decides not to shuffle things a bit. If that's the case then I'll continue to work hard and hope to get more game time in the friendly with Sunderland next weekend."

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Hart, however, believes he won't be the only one to have benefited from the outing to Bloomfield Road, Calderwood using the opportunity to expose a good number of youngsters to the challenge posed by a side which had been playing in the English Premier League only a few weeks ago. And he insisted facing up to veteran striker Kevin Phillips would have been a terrific experience for the three youngsters who, along with himself, formed Hibs' back four, David Stephens, Paul Hanlon and Scott Smith, boasting an average age of just 20.

He said: "The club cannot keep going out and signing players so youth is going to be a major factor going forward. The manager had pre-warned the youngsters about Phillips. He's a veteran player who never stops working in and around the box.

"Further up the pitch he just lets you have the ball but he switches on around the box. He peels off round the back of you, he's constantly on the move and it was a great test to keep yourself switched on.

"I'm sure the Blackpool dressing-room were asking "Who?" as they read down our teamsheet before the match. I know a few of them and they were telling me they were surprised we had taken the game having played on Sunday, but we have a depth to our squad with the young lads.

"I'm sure it will have been an experience for them and one which, hopefully, will be good for them as they look to get their careers off the ground."