Hibs title challenge is no laughing matter now

McGinn put in a fantastic performance as Hibs beat Rangers in November. Picture: John McGinn

McGinn put in a fantastic performance as Hibs beat Rangers in November. Picture: John McGinn

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Midfielder John McGinn was laughed at as he claimed live on air that Hibs could catch Rangers in the Championship title race despite being eight points adrift of the Ibrox men at the end of October.

Now who’s chuckling? Well, McGinn will be the first to state that Hibs have achieved nothing yet and that titles aren’t won in December, but the Scotland Under-21 captain and his Hibs team-mates have certainly answered the doubters in style.

Hibs’ start to the season was the fuel to the mockers’ fire, slumping to two defeats in their opening three fixtures at Dumbarton and Rangers. Since then though, Hibs have shown their true colours, embarking on a 15-match unbeaten run since’ James Tavernier’s second-half free-kick put Hibs to the sword at Ibrox in August.

Such a run – which included a 2-1 victory over Mark Warburton’s men in the return fixture at Easter Road at the beginning of November – has since slashed Rangers’ lead at the summit to just three points and McGinn, who was yesterday named Ladbrokes Championship Player of the Month for November, claims the spirit and belief inside the Easter Road dressing-room never waned despite being written off elsewhere.

“I was on the radio when we were eight points behind (ahead of the Rangers game last month) and they kind of sniggered when they asked me if we could catch the team above us and I said, ‘Of course we can’,” the Scotland Under-21 captain recalled.

“I got a few tweets sent to me and, at the studio, they were laughing, but I think we’ve shown now that we’re more than capable of competing up at the top. But we can’t get carried away as we haven’t done anything yet so we just need to keep plugging away and getting the results.”

McGinn’s performances haven’t gone unnoticed this term, with the former St Mirren player looking every bit the part that convinced Stubbs to offer him a four-year contract in July. He admits he lost his way under former manager Gary Teale last season as the Buddies were relegated from the Premiership, but says he feels revived under a new management team in Leith.

“When you’re losing the majority of games then it’s not nice as we were last year,” he said.

“You don’t get to play with the same freedom and vibe that our team is just now. So as we’re winning the majority of our games, it’s a great place to be. There are fine margins in football and when you’ve got that wee bit of confidence it helps so much. We’ve got a great squad of players and I’m really enjoying playing with them.

“It’s going very well this season but it could have gone better if I’d scored more goals. That’s something I’m working on as I targeted ten at the start of the season and I’ve only scored two so I need to get a move on.

“I’ll admit I did take a long time to decide [about signing for Hibs] but it was the manager that persuaded me to come here. It felt really good to be wanted that much and the vision he has for the club is very ambitious and I think that’s starting to show. He’s got the right people about him and the right people upstairs so it’s a club moving in the right direction.”

While delighted to receive his award, McGinn was quick to highlight the role played by others at the club.

He said: “It’s always nice to be getting personal recognition, but I wouldn’t be getting it if it wasn’t for the help of my team-mates and the backroom staff.

“For myself and the gaffer to get recognised personally, then we’ve got to dedicate it to the boys in the dressing-room.”

With the Hibs midfield arguably the most competitive area in the team, emphasised by the likes of Marvin Bartley, Dan Carmichael and Martin Boyle all finding it difficult to break into a side that is delivering results on a consistent basis, McGinn says he is relishing his run in the Hibs engine room, but was left at a loose end by the weekend call off at Cappielow.

“I was disappointed the game was off on Saturday at Morton, but it was nice to get away from it the week before when we didn’t have a match,” he explained. “Sometimes you just need a wee bit time away from football to freshen things up. We had our Christmas night out in Newcastle as well so we all had a great time.

“It’s really important and great the gaffer gave us some time off but when you’re on the run like the one we’re on, you want to play all the time so this Saturday’s match against Falkirk can’t come quick enough.”