What a rollercoaster ride it is being a Hibs fan. Is there really any other clubs that can take you from highs to lows and back again in such short spaces of time? I doubt it.
A while back, one of my blogs started by charting how we had closed the gap on Rangers from 11 points down to zero. I had said that I still expected them to win the league, but it was great to actually be in a title race. I certainly didn’t think that 3 months later, our chances of even finishing 2nd would be starting to fade.
I think most Hibs fans would have admitted that even before this 4 game losing run in the league we are currently on, that our league performances have been far from good enough. We were scraping a lot of games 1-0, and the thought was that we were going to come unstuck at some point. Well now we aren’t keeping the clean sheets like we once were, and no improvement up front means we are now seeing ourselves actually struggle to pick up points.
The biggest frustration for a lot of Hibs fans under Stubbs has been the failure to take more of our chances, and that has never improved. Against Raith at the weekend, although we didn’t play particularly well, we had enough chances to win the game 6-2, and when you have strikers available like Cummings and Stokes, its borderline criminal that we seem unable to score more than 1 goal in a match.
Our decline in defence happens to coincide with Paul Hanlons injury, and that is no coincidence. He has been excellent this season, and the sooner he is back the better. But we cant rely on keeping clean sheets and nicking games 1-0. We have to start taking games by the scruff of the neck. For a long time, I have championed us playing an attacking 3-5-2, and its no surprise to me that our easiest game recently was the 3-0 against Alloa. We played with Carmichael and Boyle wide instead of Stevenson and Gray, and this allowed us to get in behind the opposition more. We shouldn’t need 4 at the back against the so called smaller teams, and with them all sitting so deep, he have to try and break them down. Stubbs seems to be adamant on sticking with the diamond in midfield, and although this seems to be effective against teams that are a bit more open, against teams that’s intention is to sit in and frustrate us, it just isn’t working.
Aside from our dubious league performances of late, the cups have certainly kept us on our toes. Last Sunday I had a fantastic day with family and friends, until around 4.50pm. It was the first time my son has experienced real genuine heartbreak. He was at the Celtic 3-0 final, and also the Hamilton play off, but he’s 11 now and is fast becoming an obsessive like his dad, so last week really hurt him. It was a tough one. I think although we had all said that the game was 50/50, deep down we thought we were taking the League Cup back along the M8. The day had gone well, and Hampden again looked outstanding with over 30,000 Hibs fans turning the place green and white. And I think over the piece, we played well. We were the better team of the two, but as we have seen so many times before, 2 errors cost us big time in the end. The first one boils down to Kevin Thomsons slack pass across midfield – and from a player who prides himself on his ball retention, it was criminal. We deservedly got back into the game just before half time, and as the second half wore on, extra time looked inevitable. What a sucker punch that goal was.
Teams seem to have picked up that we seem to leave a lot of space in our right back position. David Gray has been quite guilty of being out of position this season, and this is where the 2nd Ross County goal stemmed from. I genuinely feel for Liam Fontaine. He clearly cares, and although the way he dealt with the cross was just bizarre, he must have felt like disappearing up the tunnel right there and then. And obviously the biggest problem with a 89th minute goal, is, you have basically no chance to get level again. Gutted……
But its how you pick yourself up from disappointment that defines you. I will be 100% honest, I did not think we had any chance of getting past Inverness last week. I just felt that the disappointment of Sunday, coupled with playing in such a exhausting game 3 days earlier would be too much, so fair play to the players for picking themselves up and proving a lot of people wrong. But they now have to do that again. We have to start winning again in the league. I don’t think we can afford to finish 3rd if we want to be in the Premiership next season. With the number of games we’ve already had and still have coming up (9 in April!!) then the idea of us having to play Raith twice(based on current position), Falkirk twice and a premiership side who will be fresher than us, twice, in a short space of time, seems like a lot.
We need to roll our sleeves up and get back to winning. I have no doubt that we have CLEARLY the 2nd best team in the league, and a fair few players would get in that Rangers team, but ability on paper means nothing if you can’t transfer that into results. I haven’t even been that impressed whenever I have seen Falkirk play, but fair play to them, they have produced results week in week out, and even came back from 2-0 down to beat Rangers on Friday – that shows character.
Alan Stubbs has become a huge topic of debate recently. Personally, I like him. I think he will succeed as a manager at a good level. But, only if he starts learning from our failings. He is clearly a very good man manager, and sells his vision well, but his loyalty to certain players, and his stubbornness with certain tactics is costing him and us dearly. Players like Gray and Cummings seem to be keeping their places based on their reputation rather than their form at the minute. Post game on Saturday was the first time I have seen Stubbs genuinely seem angry with a performance, and I hope he sticks to his word of shuffling the pack. Having Mcgeouch, Hanlon and Fyvie back will help massively too, but I really hope that we see Farid and Gunnarsson get a run in the starting 11, as part of a 3-5-2! If Stubbs shows this willingness to change things, it will win some over, but there always be a set of fans that won’t agree with what any manager does. For example, if Cummings gets left out of the 11 next time out, then I would agree with that call, but if we lose, then there will be people quick to say that he was mad to leave out our top scorer.
So on we go to April. There is still the opportunity for this to be an outstanding season if we can get back to our pre-christmas performances. If the season ends with us promoted and winning the Scottish cup, we’ll wonder what all the panic was about. We can but dream…….!