The top prize may have gone, but John McGinn today insisted the aim remains the same for him and his Easter Road team-mates – winning promotion.
A horror run of four successive league defeats ended any hopes Hibs had of winning the Championship, rivals Rangers with whom they were neck-and-neck for much of the season set to do so when they face Dumbarton tonight.
But despite that slump Alan Stubbs’ players still remain very much in the hunt for second place and the chance to join the Ibrox club in a return to the Premiership via the play-offs, a more difficult route as McGinn conceded, but one which they are determined to take.
The Capital club ended that string of setbacks with a point away to St Mirren, losing no ground in the fight with Falkirk for second, the Bairns surrendering a two-goal lead at Queen of the South to remain six points ahead but with three more games played.
Hibs have the chance to begin eating into that advantage when Livingston visit Easter Road tonight, David Hopkin’s players battling to avoid the relegation play-off spot with Alloa Athletic already doomed to League One football next season but, insisted McGinn, Stubbs’ side must use this encounter to get back to winning ways.
The Scotland midfielder said: “We were better in spells on Saturday but I still think we were making silly mistakes and the manager told us that. But it was important to stop the rot. We thought we’d done enough in the first half to put us a couple of goals ahead but fair play to St Mirren, they came back into it.”
Rocco Quinn’s controversial strike – the Paisley frontman clearly offside – cancelled out Jason Cummings’ opener before Lawrence Shankland put the Buddies ahead only for Farid El Alagui to step off the bench to claim a dramatic late equaliser, the significance of which was only realised back in the away dressing-room when Stubbs and his players learned Falkirk had slipped up again.
McGinn insisted referee Craig Charleston allowing Quinn’s goal to stand was a mistake on his part but conceded, as is so often said in football, that things even themselves up over the course of a season.
The 21-year-old said: “It’s an error from the officials, Everyone knows that. It’s something that maybe went for us in the first half of the season but we should have had enough to go and win the game. We were disappointed with the second goal we lost and we didn’t create enough chace to win the game.
“It was really important we got the equaliser. It was a turning point and when we scored I felt we might even have gone on to get another one. We need to start playing to our strengths again and let others worry about us rather than us worrying about them.”
Although Hibs have taken just one point out of a possible 15, McGinn believes the fact they still retain strong hopes of promotion indicates just how well they had done previously, suffering just one defeat in the 28 games which preceded the current dismal run.
He said: “It just shows how good we were in the first half of the season that we’re still hanging in there. We want second place. We know Raith Rovers and Falkirk are doing really well just now but we’ve got the players who can finish second. We want to get out of this division by the easiest route possible.
“We want to finish second so it gives us the best opportunity to do that.
“It’s not the prize we wanted, but it’s the same aim. At the start of the season the manager said we had to go up, however we did it. We’ve chosen the more difficult route and only have ourselves to blame for that but we still want to accomplish our goal and get back to the top flight where this club belongs.”
And McGinn believes top scorer Cummings has rediscovered his goal touch at just the right time, the striker ending a seven-game drought by scoring twice – having earlier missed a penalty – as Scotland’s Under-21 side defeated Northern Ireland 3-1 in their latest European Championship qualifying match before returning to the same venue, Paisley’s 2021 Stadium, to get on the end of McGinn’s pass to open the scoring at the weekend.
He said: “Jason was finding it difficult. I watched the Scotland Under-21 game and I could see the missed penalty was killing him so it was great to see him get the two goals after that and another on Saturday.
“He’s got his swagger back. It was a great run on Saturday and he made it easy for me to find him. As all top scorers do, I am sure he’ll go on a run. Jason is Jason, just he’s not so funny when he’s not scoring goals.”
McGinn also believes his own introduction to international football, the Under-21s skipper stepping up to make his debut at Hampden as Gordon Strachan’s squad defeated Denmark, can have a beneficial spin-off for Hibs.
He said: “It was a massive confidence boost for me to know I can complete on the pitch with such good players. It was brilliant, learning as a player and seeing what it takes to be an international football player. It just makes me hungry for more and there was definitely a spring in my step going into training and then the game on Saturday.”