FOR a while now, Hibernian have been in a slow-motion car crash, being sucked towards the relegation play-off as surely as water disappears down an open plughole.
They have become the subject of what grizzled media types refer to as "doomwatch", when the number of reporters at their games swells because there is the smell of blood and they are seen to be in far bigger trouble than anyone else.
Hibernian are three points clear of 11th place and there are four threatened clubs below them, but they are by far the most compelling story for two reasons: one, they are the biggest of the clubs which could yet go down with Hearts and, secondly, their form has been the bleakest and most lifeless of all those in the fight. Terry Butcher, the embattled manager, is not finding a pulse in these players and has to take his share of the blame for that. Even a once bright talent such as Alex Harris is playing as if he is carrying the weight of the world.
They have won one of their last 15 games. They have lost the last five. It is 388 minutes of football since they scored. There is not enough quality and not enough confidence among their players. Goalkeeper Ben Williams delivered a fascinating insight into all of this. Intelligent, articulate and opinionated, when he faced the press Williams gave the most impressive performance by a Hibs player for weeks. On current form, he said, they did not deserve to be in the SPFL Premiership.
The bottom third of the league has tightened around Hibs like a hand reaching out from quicksand to drag them down. On Sunday they face Hearts and, incredibly, it is their relegated city neighbours, still in administration, which have momentum and a spring in their step.
"We have four games starting with Hearts," said Williams. "People throw around cliches about 'must-win games' and 'each game is a cup final', but they really are. Otherwise we are going to be in a play-off against a team who have all the momentum going into it and have a prize at the end of it. They will be trying to gain an SPL spot and we will be fighting to stay in it. At the moment, we don't look like we deserve to.
"The problem is simple: we are not scoring goals and we are conceding them. That [St Mirren] was our fourth 2-0 reversal in a row. That speaks volumes about the position we are in. Okay, we can dominate possession and we can dominate corners, but the game is not won that way. As a group we need to show character and we need to show that we are playing for the club. At the moment, we are not.
"We are letting the club down. We are letting the supporters down. We are letting everyone who pays us a wage down.
"Football is about confidence, 100%. The best players in the world are the ones who are confident, thriving and can perform on the toughest of stages. Our confidence is low at the moment but we have to turn up on Monday and make sure that by Sunday's derby confidence is high, the lads are raring to go and we can hit the ground running. You can't go into a derby and concede an early goal, like we did against St Mirren. It would be pointless turning up.
"We need characters who are going to step up and not be players who are going to concede after a ridiculous amount of time like that."
He was alluding to the fact that Kenny McLean scored for St Mirren 12 seconds after kick-off. "Kenny will play in the English Premier League," said team-mate Darren McGregor.
Conceding so early was an embarrassment, as was the fact Hibs were powerless to turn around the game against a team below them in the league (now only on goal difference) which played for more than an hour with 10 men. Paul McGowan punished a Jordan Forster mistake, then Jim Goodwin was sent off for lunging in on Kevin Thomson. Goodwin was playing well and his side did miss him, but Hibs' efforts to salvage something were laboured. To concede an instant goal, then do nothing with a one-man advantage for an hour, amounted to a further shredding of their negligible morale.
"People will say that Hibs have been soft this season and we have been, without a shadow of a doubt," said Williams. "Honestly, we've been soft. We're spoiled. We have a fantastic ground and a fantastic training ground. As a group of players, we say the same things, the manager says the same things and I dare say the fans are sick of hearing the same things. What we aren't doing is performing on the pitch. That's what we need to address and it starts on Sunday in the derby. Personally, I'm tired of talking. I want to see things happen on the pitch."
St Mirren's own work is not done, but they have momentum, grit and resilience. For now, at least, the story is way over in the east.