Farid EL Alagui has urged his Easter Road team-mates to forget looking at the Championship table and simply concentrate on rediscovering their winning habit.
Three successive defeats following a run of 15 matches unbeaten means Hibs have fallen behind a resurgent Rangers side in the race to finish runners-up to Hearts, raising the prospect of an extra but unwanted round of play-off matches.
While momentum appears to have swung in favour of the Ibrox club, who are three points ahead of Hibs with a game in hand, El Alagui insisted Alan Stubbs’ players hadn’t given up hope of claiming second place. However, he admitted they quickly need to start picking up points again, starting with tomorrow night’s trip to Dumbarton.
Conceding the fight for the three play-off positions had tightened up somewhat with Falkirk only three points back and Queen of the South a further two points adrift after the weekend’s matches, El Alagui said: “We still want to make second place, but we have to win games. We have to stop looking at the papers and thinking about second, third or fourth. The main thing is winning games.
“I think if you start looking at the table, you can get distracted and maybe forget the it’s about getting out onto the pitch and winning. Only then can you look at the table.”
Simple arithmetic, however, would suggest second place is now something of a long shot as far as Hibs are concerned, with only five league matches remaining, but the return of El Alagui after almost seven months out with a ruptured Achilles tendon has, at least, given the supporters a lift.
El Alagui came on as a substitute after Hibs fell behind to Mark Durnan’s 47th-minute goal on Saturday to a rapturous reception as the Bordeaux-born striker tried to pull Hibs back into the match.
It was the first time El Alagui had played at Easter Road since August 26 last year – on that night he scored twice in a 3-2 League Cup win over Dumbarton – as in his following match at Alloa he ruptured his Achilles, resulting in months on the sidelines and gruelling rehab work.
The Moroccan made his return to action two weekends ago as a substitute in the 2-1 defeat by Raith Rovers and he was humbled by the reception he received from the travelling Hibs fans that day. He admitted that the chorus of applause and cheers that bellowed out from the stands at Easter Road on Saturday as he made his appearance was another touching experience.
He said: “Last week the reception the fans gave me was amazing and it was the same on Saturday. I appreciated it very much and it helps me give everything when I come on. Hopefully I can again score a few goals and help make sure we win matches.”
While El Alagui agreed the level of expectation from the supporters as he makes his long-awaited return to action brought a certain pressure to bear on him, he insisted he’s more than happy to shoulder that burden, saying: “Yes, it’s a pressure, but it’s not too bad.
“To be honest, when I came on and they cheered me the way they did, it gave me more adrenalin to give my all. It’s more a motivation than pressure, but pressure is a good thing – it ensures that you give your best for the team and the supporters.
“However, it was a bitter sweet day for me, a terrific feeling to be back on the pitch at Easter Road in front of our own fans, but a big disappointment to have lost the game. We’d been beaten in our previous two games and the aim was to ensure it didn’t become three, but unfortunately that’s how it turned out.
“I felt we were a bit flat. I think we needed to press them more to apply a bit of pressure on them and make sure they didn’t get too much time on the ball.
“Now we have to dig in and come back as a team tomorrow night, to give a good performance against Dumbarton and to get back to winning ways before the derby.
“I’d say it’s a four-horse race for the play-off places, so we have to make sure we look after ourselves and win games.”
With El Alagui playing little more than 30 minutes at the weekend, Stubbs will no doubt face a clamour from fans for the striker to play from the start at the Bet Butler Stadium. However, the head coach has resolutely insisted that given the length of time the player was sidelined, he’s determined not to rush him and so run the risk of a setback at a time when, should Hibs beat Falkirk to reach the final of the Scottish Cup, his team could be facing a total of 13 games before their season comes to an end.
El Alagui said: “I would like to tell you that I’m starting tomorrow, but I can’t. I do not know what the manager’s plans are other than he’ll want to put the best team possible out, the one he believes is going to win.
“He also knows what is best for me, so if I am on the bench I’ll hope to come on again and if I do I’ll be doing my best to make sure we get the right result.”