3 weeks today it will all be over. By 10.30pm that day, the final of the Premiership Play off will have been decided. Everything that the team have been working on will have been decided, and we will either be in ecstasy, or in agony. And at the moment I really don’t know which way its going to go. One things for sure tho, there’s going to be plenty of twists and turns on the way.
It all starts tonight in Kirkcaldy, which is hopefully our first of seven games in that short 3 week period. It will be a tough 2 legged affair, and one that we all hoped we wouldn’t have to deal with, but we couldn’t quite do enough to finish above Falkirk, which in itself poses lots of question marks over this Hibs team. On the surface of it, we should have coasted to 2nd place, while giving Rangers some sort of challenge, but that February to Mid April period that saw us win 2 games (against Alloa and Livingston) in 10 totally derailed our season. Did the exersions and focus of the cup cause us to take our eyes off the league (we had 6 cup games amongst those 10 league games)?, did the comings and goings of the January transfer window cause imbalance in the squad? did allowing Anthony Stokes 2 months to get up to match speed disadvantage us? was Stubbs too stubborn with his preferred players and tactics? We all have our individual thoughts on each of these questions, but I suppose we’ll never really be able to pinpoint if it was one of these or a mixture of them all. But the season starts NOW. We can forget everything thats gone before it and treat the next 3 weeks as a mini season, with a promotion and a cup to be won.
The last couple of games have shown some signs of improvement. I’m not going to get carried away by them – we were playing 2 teams that were as good as on their summer holidays, but we played with an impotus and the target of scoring a few goals seems to have focused the players. As usual, we probably should have scored double the goals we actually did in both games, but we got 6 and kept 2 clean sheets so it certainly bodes well for the coming games. It was good to see us change the formation and bring in the likes of Keatings, Boyle, Gunnarson and Logan, although I would have liked to have seen John McGinn rested in one of the games – the poor lad looked done in after 10 minutes on Sunday. I would like to see us stick with the 3-5-2 for tonights game. I think it gives us balance and in particular, more width, which is something we have lacked this season. I expect Cummings to come back in for Keatings, and I think Oxley will come back in for Logan, but probably not many more changes than that.
One big plus on Sunday was the appearance of Dylan McGeouch. He is a player who has the ability to win us games single handedly, and his injuries could be another factor in our dip in form. I don’t think we’ll see him start tonight, the Starks Park pitch isn’t the best, but another sub appearance if required maybe, and then get him back in the team at Easter Road on Saturday. Maybe even rest John McGinn for him.
One big thing that is a focus at the minute, is the amount of supposed mind games coming out of Easter Road. In recent weeks we’ve had Fraser Fyvie calling out Falkirks “big game players”, Stubbs claiming all the pressure is on Falkirk, Jason Cummings stating that Falkirk and Raith will be scared of us, to name a few. In general, I think more is made of these comments than how they were actually intended. The media are very quick to try and stir the pot and create and edge between the two clubs. They were VERY guilty of it during the first half of the season between Stubbs and Warburton, and more recently they led with headlines that Stubbs claimed Hibs were going for the treble. This was NOT how the conversation went. Journalist – “Can Hibs win the Treble”. Stubbs – “Only ourselves and Celtic are still in all 3 competitions and we will fight on all fronts”. The media love a loaded question. Unfortunately our players are very good at getting duped by it. Jason Cummings in particular is a very confident, if naive, young man, so some of his tongue in cheek, cocky comments are very easy to twist and use for a headline. But its not just us that get caught by it. Jason Thomson of Raith said in retaliation to Cummings that he is more scared of his missus than Hibs, and Raith’s manager, Ray McKinnon has allowed the tabloids to print “Jason Cummings Is Irrelevant” – which again wasn’t quite what he said, but his actual comment wouldn’t have made as interesting reading. These headlines have certainly caused a stir amongst fans, claiming that they wish players would shut up and do their talking on the park. But just how much effect does it actually have on a game? I can’t see it having much bearing. Ok afterwards a player might comment on something after they’ve won the game, look at Jamie Vardy mocking Harry Kanes photo of the hunting lions, but I doubt it has much of an impact during the 90 minutes. Lewis Stevenson even alluded to that in an interview this morning. Once they cross that white line, the talking stops, and its all about what they do on the park.
It’s probably not a bad thing, but the play-offs have almost taken our minds away from the looming cup final. We hopefully can forget about that until the morning after the 1st leg of the play off final. What a week that could be. But we still have tickets to buy, and as I write this, the usual ticketing farce is underway. It really is dissapointing that every time we have a expected demand for tickets like this, the platform provided by Ticketmaster buckles under the strain. How can a company that can sell half a million Take That tickets in half an hour struggle to deal with around 8000 Hibs fans trying to purchase cup Final tickets. They clearly are not providing us with the platform we require and hopefully Hibs are prepared to do some butt kicking as it should be an easy task. There are currently queues around the Easter Road pitch but that sounds less stressful than trying to buy online.
So into battle we go. One things for sure, we’ll come out of it scarred and bruised (and with lighter wallets), but hopefully the bruises are from falling over drunk in celebration. We certainly deserve it.