JOHN McGINN today insisted Hibs will be ready to roll up their sleeves and “win ugly” again when they face Raith Rovers on Saturday having produced a gritty performance to beat Falkirk and leapfrog the Fife club in the Championship table.
A controversial penalty converted by Jason Cummings – awarded by referee Alan Muir when McGinn ran into Bairns midfielder Blair Alston – was enough to give Alan Stubbs team the victory they needed on Tuesday to keep in touch with Rangers but now the 21-year-old is anticipating just as tough a match at Stark’s Park with Rovers having won all five of their home league games this season.
Hibs travel across the Forth in the middle of their most testing period of the season to date but make the journey full of confidence having followed up an impressive win over Dumbarton last weekend with another three points against Falkirk in a game pushed back from its original date in September.
The Scotland Under-21 skipper said: “The past few weeks we have been playing fluently and impressing, but against Falkirk it was all about getting our sleeves rolled up and winning ugly. We showed another side to us.
“We’d lost two cheap goals against Dumbarton so it was important to stand firm because Falkirk had us under the cosh – there’s no doubt about that. But we dealt with everything they threw at us and that’s definitely another side of our game that we haven’t seen yet. But hopefully we can replicate that in the weeks to come.
“We knew we had a tough period coming up and that’s us won two out of two so far. We just need to keep it going on Saturday. We know it will be another tough game so we’ll need to work as hard as we did at Falkirk and get another three points.
“Raith are doing really well. Since we beat them at Easter Road I think they have won the majority of their games. We’ll need to be wary of them. Like Falkirk, they are a very tough team to beat.
“We’ll analyse their strengths and weaknesses and hopefully we can exploit them like we did Falkirk.”
McGinn admitted life might have been a bit easier against the Bairns had Dominique Malonga taken an early second-half chance although Cummings strike from that controversial penalty – his ninth goal of the season – scored minutes before the interval, proved to be enough in the end.
He said: “We had lots of chances early on and, if had taken one of them, the game might have been easier. We didn’t, and that made it hard for ourselves.”
Although the Capital club are eight points better off than they were at the same point last season, Stubbs’ players trail Rangers by the same margin, a fact which keeps the pressure on McGinn and his team-mates who lost ground when losing to Dumbarton on the opening day of the season and having their 100 per cent home record marred by a draw with St Mirren.
“Every game is a must win,” conceded former Buddies midfielder McGinn, “We can’t afford to slip up like we did at Dumbarton and at home to St Mirren. We’ll get punished and the gap will get bigger and bigger. We just need to concentrate on keeping on winning and picking up the three points.”
Stubbs himself has stated that Hibs barely resemble the side which kicked off the season, his squad having been ravaged by injuries to key players while the Scott Allan transfer saga had overshadowed everything and proved to be an unwelcome distraction to all at Easter Road.
But now, cruciate ligament victim Danny Handling apart, the head coach has a full squad at his disposal, striker Farid El Alagui taking a place on the bench on Tuesday although he didn’t get any further while Fraser Fyvie, James Keatings and Islam Feruz all made their return from injury against Dumbarton.
El Alagui played from the start in yesterday’s development squad game against Rangers as did fellow striker Jamie Insall, Jordon Forster and former Hearts defender Adam Eckersley. That competition, McGinn insisted, is driving Hibs forward, Stubbs in the happy position of being able to make three changes from the weekend against Falkirk and liable to do so again on Saturday.
He said: “No disrespect to the players who were here last year, but I feel we have a greater strength in depth and I think the points tally is showing that.
“The boys in the starting eleven know if they are off it they’ll be out the team for the next game. That’s healthy for the squad. You saw our bench at Falkirk. It’s a squad worthy of playing in any team in this league.
“I wouldn’t wish these decisions on the manager, I don’t envy him. The boys who didn’t play are really disappointed and that’s understandable. But the manager said after the game that everyone will get used and I am sure they will.
McGinn himself has escaped being “rested” so far despite Stubbs admitting he was tempted to take him off during the Dumbarton game given he’d played two European Championship qualifying matches for the Scotland Under-21 squad against France and Iceland at Pittodrie the previous week.
And, he admitted, he’ll be delighted if that continues to be the case. He said: “I just want to keep playing. I don’t need a rest – I’m only 21.”