They’re going to miss him when he goes. But until then Dominique Malonga promises he’ll be throwing all his energies at helping Hibs continue the revival which has seen Alan Stubbs’ side notch up an unbeaten run of eight Championship matches.
Malonga returned from his first stint of international duty with Congo to claim a hat-trick, taking his tally to nine goals in just 11 starts.
But as those fans who had travelled to Dumbarton celebrated a fifth successive away win their thoughts were no doubt already turning to January when the striker will be absent for the best part of a month as Congo contest the finals of the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time in 14 years.
It’s a bitter-sweet prospect for there’s little doubt the goals the 25-year-old has scored for Hibs lay behind his first call-up to the Red Devils and obviously fingers will be crossed that his prolific strike rate continues.
The downside, of course, is that will make it all the more likely Congo coach Claude Le Roy will name the Paris-born hitman in his squad which will head to Equatorial Guinea for a competition which begins on January 17 and ends on February 8, meaning Malonga could miss as many as five matches for his club – although Stubbs hopes Farid El Alagui will be fit again around that time.
Malonga said: “I think my last game for Hibs will be against Hearts, then I will go with my country. It’s been a good week for me, being with my country for the first time and the African Cup of Nations is an exciting opportunity.
“But for the next two months I am only thinking about Hibs. We have the Scottish Cup match this weekend [against Alloa Athletic] so I start working hard today with my team.”
Malonga had missed the dreary no-scoring draw against Queen of the South the previous week, his absence highlighted by his performance against Dumbarton as Hibs left Ian Murray’s men reeling with a devastating blitz which saw them score three times in just seven minutes.
The Sons simply had no answer as Stubbs’ players ran them ragged, defender Liam Fontaine seeing one net-bound header nodded off the line by Scott Agnew and another tipped over by goalkeeper Danny Rogers before Dumbarton’s resistance crumbled.
A superb through ball from Danny Handling set up Scott Allan for his first goal for Hibs, the midfielder admitting: “It was good to get off the mark, I’ve been trying for one for a while.”
Malonga claimed his first with a clever dink over Rogers after playing a one-two with skipper Liam Craig and then a touch of magic by Allan on the bye-line left Paul Hanlon to tap in from close-range.
It looked far too easy for Hibs with Dumbarton’s back three torn apart as David Gray and Lewis Stevenson made the most of the space behind their wing-backs, leading Stubbs to declare: “I thought for 30 minutes we were outstanding, the best we have played this season.”
The feelgood factor, however, disappeared after the interval, substitute Chris Kane allowed to stroll unmarked onto a Colin Nish knockdown to give Dumbarton a little hope, which strengthened when Andy Graham headed Mark Gilhaney’s cross beyond goalkeeper Mark Oxley. A thunderbolt from Malonga – his best yet for Hibs he insisted – allowed some breathing space only for Garry Fleming to fray the nerves again by drilling home a third for the home side.
Former Hibs skipper Murray, who marked his second anniversary as Sons’ manager with this match, said: “At 3-2 and 4-3 we looked like getting an equaliser and, if we could do that, to go on and win it.”
Hibs, though, had other ideas, Sam Stanton rifling a low shot across Rogers and into the far corner of the net with six minutes remaining before Malonga completed his hat-trick by rolling the ball home.
As a former defender Stubbs, naturally, had questions to ask about the three goals his side conceded but, he insisted, it would be churlish to dwell on them rather than the “magnificent” six they had scored, the first time Hibs had claimed so many since sharing a dozen with Motherwell at Fir Park more than four years ago.
He said: “We’d talked about complacency at half-time and of not giving them a chance to get back into the game. We knew they would be trying to get the ball into the box, they managed to score and that gave them a bit of impetus, momentum and belief. Obviously I’m not happy about the goals we lost but it would be wrong to concentrate on their goals when we have scored six magnificent goals ourselves.”
Stubbs admitted the return of Malonga had made a difference, the player dove-tailing superbly with teenager Jason Cummings who had been asked to play as a lone striker against Queen of the South in his team-mate’s absence. The head coach said: “Dominique is what we missed last week, he gives the team a purpose, a focal point at the top. You know when the ball goes into him more often than not he will hold it up.
“You saw the difference with Jason playing alongside him. It had been difficult for him last week because he was by himself and for him to play that at such a young age is very difficult.
“Dominique scored the goals and will get all the credit but I thought Jason showed a much more polished performance.”
So, too, did Allan, the midfielder recapturing the form which persuaded now England boss Roy Hodgson to take him to West Bromwich Albion where, the player himself admits, he somewhat lost his way.
Now Stubbs is intent on nurturing his talent, saying: “Scott seems to have got himself back on track. He is in a really good place at this moment in time. I think he is in control of everything, he realises he cannot waste his ability – I won’t allow him to waste it, simple as that.
“It’s obvious to see he is head and shoulders above a lot of people he comes up against.”