Darren McGregor has insisted anything more than a top-six finish should be regarded as a bonus in Hibs’ first season back in the Ladbrokes Premiership.
Easter Road boss Neil Lennon has already stated his belief that the Capital club can finish “best of the rest” behind Celtic – again odds-on favourites for the title – adamant that there’s no point in not aiming high.
While accepting his manager’s stand-point, McGregor believes a place in the top six would be a good starting point for a squad which has spent the past three seasons in the second tier of Scottish football.
He said: “That’s the gaffer’s opinion and I can sort of see where he’s coming from as manager of the team. But, for a lot of fans, myself included, you really want to be going in and finishing in the top six.
“That’s your benchmark. Yes, you can set your sights higher, but I’m of the firm belief that, with the squad we have got, and hopefully the ‘add-ons’ we get before the end of the season, top six should be the benchmark.
“Anything over and above that would be a bonus for our first year.”
Whatever may transpire, McGregor was adamant he and his team-mates will be competitive as they relish once again visiting ground such as Celtic Park, Pittodrie and Tynecastle on a regular basis while he believes even opposition players will be happy to have Hibs back.
He said: “We’re looking forward to it. We’ve been in the Championship for three years and, no disrespect to the teams in it, but we’ve been going through the same cycle for three years.
“It will be great to get back to Parkhead, Tynecastle regularly, Pittodrie – all these places and teams that are perceived to be the top teams in the country.
“You only need to look at our stadium, the infrastructure, the fans we got last season to see we’re a big club as well. I’m sure there will be a lot of guys at other teams in the Premiership who are looking forward to us getting back as well.
“Our ground when it’s got 16-17,000 people in it has a really good atmosphere.”
After back-to-back seasons which saw Hibs win the Scottish Cup for the first time in 114 years and then the Championship title, McGregor is well aware of the rising expectation amongst Easter Road fans, evidenced by season-ticket sales running at record levels.
But he claimed he and his team-mates can rise to that challenge, saying: “There is always pressure and pressure is always good.
“It drives a wee bit of anxiety. I gives you that wee bit of the fear which in turn makes you work hard and makes you focused and concentrated.
“The fans have not put their hands into their pockets for no reason. They want to see good football, they want to see us winning games and they want to see us competing with other teams.
“Outside of Rangers and Celtic and the crowds they draw, the global audience they attract, you could argue that Aberdeen, ourselves, Hearts, are all of a similar ilk. The fans have put their faith in us so we need to go out there and perform. We are expected to win games.”
McGregor and his team-mates have had almost seven weeks to relax following their final Championship, plenty of time to reflect on what became a rather dragged out race to the title.
Asked if Lennon’s players were left drained by the experience, the 31-year-old said: “It was more of a relief, to be honest. After we beat Dundee United at their place, it was almost expected we would just go up.
“I thought we dragged our heels for a few games after it. There was a wee bit of apprehension so it was great to get that victory against Queen of the South. The plus side is we will be playing in the Premiership again, where we belong.”