Dominique Malonga has been dubbed Easter Road’s Danny Welbeck by his team-mates after the striker returned from international duty with Congo sporting a new haircut.
Malonga has been ribbed for looking like the Arsenal and England star – but had the last laugh as he claimed a hat-trick to help sink Championship rivals Dumbarton and take the Capital club that bit closer to second-placed Rangers.
And, claimed team-mate Scott Robertson, Welbeck himself would have been more than happy to have scored Malonga’s second goal, a stunning strike from 30 yards which flew past Sons’ goalkeeper Danny Rogers.
Malonga had only teamed up with Stubbs squad again the day before, but turned up brimming with confidence having won his first cap as Congo clinched their place in the finals of the Africa Cup of Nations and showed what Hibs had been missing the previous week in a dreary no-scoring draw with Queen of the South as he took his goals tally to nine in just 11 starts.
Robertson said: “You could sense Dominique was on a roll. It had been a great week for him, his first call-up by Congo, his debut and qualifying for the Africa Cup of Nations. Then he caps it off with a hat-trick.
“The boys were having a laugh with him, telling him he looked like Danny Welbeck with his new haircut, but I’d bet Welbeck would have been delighted to score three. Dominique’s first was terrific, good movement and a clever chip, but his second was fantastic. We hadn’t seen him score a goal like that, but I was right behind him when he hit it and I was celebrating before it went in – it was that good a strike.
“Dominique isn’t your usual British-style centre forward, but he showed how much we missed him the previous week. We went with one up top in that game, which was hard for Jason Cummings at such a young age, but while goals are the main thing, when Dominique is in the side he brings others into play with his movement and ability to hold onto the ball.
“That shows how valuable he is and, while Jason will be disappointed not to get a goal when we’ve scored six, he laid in his strike partner for his hat-trick, which is just as rewarding for the team.”
Malonga’s second goal soothed the travelling support’s nerves, Dumbarton having mounted a spirited fightback after finding themselves 3-0 down, Scott Allan and Paul Hanlon scoring either side of Malonga in a devastating seven-minute spell in the first-half, with strikes from Chris Kane and Andy Graham only for Garry Fleming to send another dose of the jitters through the Hibs fans as he made it 4-3 before Sammy Stanton and Malonga wrapped up a fifth successive away win for Stubbs’ team.
Thrilling it might have been for the supporters of both sides, but Robertson admitted he and his team-mates shouldn’t have allowed themselves to be put in such peril, while insisting the way in which they eventually won the game was further proof that Hibs are no longer the soft touches they once were.
He said: “We looked relatively comfortable in the first-half. The way Dumbarton were playing made it easier for us, but they put us under pressure in the second-half, playing the ball in for Colin Nish. Their two goals had us under pressure, but Dominique lifted it a bit with his second goal, only for them to get back into it again.
“We managed to win it, which is the main thing, but to be 3-0 up and let a team come back into the game like that was a little bit amateurish, to be honest. We were lucky to get away with it.
“On the other hand, we’ve again shown we have a bit of steel about us now. We went behind three times against Dundee United in the League Cup and came back each time. And against Cowdenbeath we were 2-0 up, lost our goalkeeper Mark Oxley, and a goal on a horrible day for football but ground out the win and we’ve made sure we won once more at Dumbarton.
“The manager has said he feels we have a different mentality now, that when we suffer a setback in a game we don’t crumble. We are a different animal now. There is certainly a difference since I first came to the club. We did seem a bit soft-centred but the view of the manager is that we have a bit of steel about us now, that we can go and make things happen as we did against Dumbarton.”
Robertson himself had sat out the Queen of the South game, as had Oxley, after the pair picked up injuries at Central Park; the goalkeeper suffering a back problem, while the midfielder broke his left hand and turned out against Dumbarton wearing a protective cast, his return allowing Stubbs’ to deploy the midfield “diamond” which had served his side so well in previous weeks.
The former Dundee, Dundee United and Blackpool player said: “I’d been tripped during the Cowdenbeath game and I put my hand out to break my fall. I didn’t land awkwardly, but I felt the pain start straight away. Afterwards, I spoke to the doctor and physio and was sent for an X-ray because the swelling was quite bad.
“It confirmed I’d broken a bone in three places, so I couldn’t play the next week. I had the cast made up – it’s softer than bone, and the referee [Calum Murray] was totally fine with it when I ran it past him before the game. Happily it didn’t hinder me in any way during the match.”