Alan Stubbs today insisted Hibs can cope with the loss of joint top scorer Dominique Malonga in Saturday’s crunch Championship clash with Queen of the South – and the possibility of him missing out again the following weekend against Dumbarton.
A victory by two goals or more would see Hibs edge into third place in the table at the expense of the Dumfries side, but they’ll make that bid without striker Malonga, who left at the beginning of the week to team up with the Congo squad as they bid to reach the finals of the African Cup of Nations.
Stubbs said: “It’s an opportunity for someone who has been waiting for a chance to come in and grab it with both hands – but it’s always easier to do that when the team is on a good run of winning games.”
Although Malonga was born in Paris, he qualifies through his parents, his six goals in ten games for Hibs leading to his call-up for the double header against Nigeria and Sudan.
While Malonga will definitely miss Saturday’s match – he’ll be hoping to win his first cap against Nigeria in Pointe-Noire – there’s also a danger he won’t make the trip to Dumbarton the following weekend as he faces a marathon trip of almost 10,000 miles and will not return to Easter Road until some point next Thursday.
Malonga joined his international team-mates in Paris before flying the 3750 miles to Congo, from where they’ll make the near 2000 miles trip to face Sudan in Khartoum on Wednesday, with the 25-year-old facing a tiring 3400 mile journey back to Edinburgh.
Head coach Stubbs said: “We expect to see Dominique next Thursday. Then we’ll assess whether he is right to participate on the Saturday, taking into account the travelling he’ll have done, the minutes he might have played and the training he’ll have done. It wasn’t a hard decision for him and we are right behind him.”
The visit of the Doonhamers was, however, the focus of Stubbs’ thinking. And the head coach threw down the gauntlet to whoever might take Malonga’s place. Only teenager Jason Cummings – who has also claimed half-a-dozen goals – has been a regular starter alongside Malonga, with veteran hitman Paul Heffernan finding his game time limited. Other options open to Stubbs could be to push Alex Harris through the middle or play Danny Handling slightly further forward.