Harper: This Hibs team is ready to make step up

Scott Robertson congratulates Dominique Malonga during the win over Dumbarton. Pic: Neil Hanna
Scott Robertson congratulates Dominique Malonga during the win over Dumbarton. Pic: Neil Hanna
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Kevin Harper reckons Alan Stubbs and his staff have invigorated Hibs and turned them into a team capable of illuminating the Scottish Premiership next season.

The former Easter Road striker made the bold claim in early November that his old side were “the best football team in the Championship by a country mile”, despite the fact they lagged well behind city rivals Hearts in the title race.

Nothing he has seen in the intervening four months – a period in which Hibs have lost only one match – has persuaded him that he was wrong to conclude that the Hibees were heading in the right direction. Indeed, he believes head coach Stubbs has assembled a squad capable of shining in the top flight if Hibs, currently second in the Championship, are able to negotiate the end-of-season play-offs successfully.

“I think this squad is definitely good enough for the Premiership,” said Harper. “The manager will certainly add a few in the summer if they go up, but, even as it stands, they could easily hold their own in the Premiership. In the play-offs, Hibs will be the last team anyone else wants to play. Any team that plays us, home or away, will be worried.

“One defeat in 19 games and they’re playing the best football in the league, it’s absolutely fantastic. I said a few months ago that they were playing the best football even then, but obviously the big difference between Hearts and Hibs was the starts the two teams made to the season.

“Hearts had the whole of last season to prepare for this season and that shows in how many points they’ve got. They’ve lost only once and over the course of the season they’ve been the best team. They are rightfully where they are, but I think if the management team had the time Hearts had or if the season started later, Hibs would certainly be there or thereabouts in the title race. You only have to look at the three derbies to see where Hibs are at the moment. Yeah, they’ve not won one yet, but I don’t think anyone would disagree that Hibs have been the better team over those three games.

“Hearts have got the points that prove that they’ve done better, certainly in the early part of the season, but most people I’ve spoken to say either that Hibs are the best side they have faced or that they are the best team they have seen in the Championship.”

Harper has been at most Hibs matches this season in his guise as a pundit for Hibs TV, while he has also been privy to work going on behind the scenes at the club as he helps out Under-20s coach Joe McBride in an effort to boost his own coaching experience. He is in no doubt that the club is in a buoyant state once again after the gloom of recent seasons.

“The club seems to have got its spirit back,” he said. “I think the fans are looking forward to coming to games again whereas last season they were probably dreading it. There’s a real optimism about the place.

“You’re turning up at games now expecting Hibs to blow teams off the pitch all the time. That’s the level of expectation this team has created because of the way they’re playing. In recent seasons, Hibs fans have been turning hoping to win but now there’s so much belief, confidence and genuine quality in the squad, that most Hibs fans are expecting to win every game. Even when they’re not at their best, like the Rangers game recently, they’re still showing they can win a different way, by showing that they’re solid and resolute.

“The manager has to take a lot of credit for that, but they’ve got a great group of staff, all the way down to the people working in the academy, and it looks like a club that’s only going to move on to bigger and better things.

“It’s been an absolute pleasure, a joy to watch Hibs this season. Every player knows what the manager wants them to do and It’s been refreshing to see a group of players play such an attacking brand of football while also being solid at the back. There’s now options right throughout the team, even in defence.

“The manager has real decisions to make whereas at the start of the season the squad was light. He’s brought in fantastic signings. No disrespect to anyone, but he’s brought in better players than those who left.”