Dylan McGeouch was on the books of both Celtic and Rangers as a youngster, so the midfielder has a decent idea of the pressure on both teams to win at all costs. He now senses a similar big-club mentality developing at Hibs.
Hopes are sky-high among the Easter Road support following a remarkable run of form over the last three months which has kept them clinging to the coat-tails of title favourites Rangers and also taken them into the semi-finals of the League Cup.
McGeouch is adamant, however, that this is no case of second-tier underdogs flying under the radar. He insists their run of 13 wins in their last 14 games is simply a result of a talented group of players rising to the challenge of trying to ensure Hibs, traditionally one of the biggest clubs in the country, are restored to the top end of Scottish football at the earliest opportunity.
Asked if he felt Hibs were playing with less pressure than Rangers because of the level of expectation around the Ibrox club, McGeouch said: “I wouldn’t really say they are any different from us. We need to win every game and the fans expect to win every game, and with the quality we have in the squad we expect to win every game. Obviously Rangers have quality as well and they are doing well but we are keeping the pressure on and we keep getting results.
“The pressure is on both teams. We both know we need to keep getting the results week in, week out, or if not then the other team is prepared to take advantage. Their fans think of them as a big club and think they should be winning every game but I think we are just as confident and the fans are just as confident in our squad. We are going into games knowing that it will be disappointing if we don’t win. It’s great that we are challenging like that.”
Prior to their 1-0 win at Falkirk just 30 days ago, Hibs trailed Rangers by a whopping 11 points. Remarkably, Tuesday’s victory at home to Livingston – their eighth in succession – took them within two points of the leaders, albeit having played a game more. McGeouch insists this strong surge, which has been reliant on a mixture of hard-fought and handsome victories, is proof that his side have the mettle to sustain a title challenge to the end.
“You can see the run we are on just now – some games we are going out and passing teams off the park and scoring three or four goals and sometimes, like against Livingston, we are digging away and getting results,” said McGeouch. “I think that is the making of a good team, if you can win when you are not playing well. I wouldn’t even say it’s bottle, it’s just taking one game at a time and ticking them off one by one and taking the three points and moving on to the next one. With the depth of the squad, there’s real quality, even on the bench, and people are ready to step in. Credit to everyone for doing that and taking their chance when they come in and keeping the momentum going. Last year we went on a great run and this year it looks like we are doing that again and hopefully we can keep going and getting the results.”
The race for the Championship title is shaping up as the most fascinating aspect of Scottish football this season. Hibs head coach Alan Stubbs said after the Livingston game that he expects it to “go to the wire”, and McGeouch is of a similar view. “Obviously if they keep winning their games and we keep winning our games then it will be close. But we just need to keep the pressure on and worry about ourselves. If they drop points, then they drop points, but we just need to keep winning games, which we are doing. We are on a good run just now and if they drop points then we will be looking to close the gap on them. We have been doing well and taking it game by game, getting the three points and then moving on to the next one. Hopefully we can keep it going.”
After missing the previous two games due to the injury that forced him off early in the victory over Rangers at the start of the month, McGeouch returned to action when he came off the bench immediately after Hibs had taken the lead against Livingston in the 52nd minute. The midfielder made a notable impact, with his arrival on the pitch contributing to his team eventually subduing the threat of a Livingston team who had looked capable of upsetting the applecart prior to falling behind. McGeouch admitted his team weren’t at their best on a night when the drizzle in the Capital had made for a heavy pitch.
“Sometimes when you are not playing well but you are still winning it feels even better,” he said. “We are digging out results when we need to and I think last year we might have dropped a few points here and there when we weren’t playing well. Obviously we want to go out and entertain in every game but it’s never going to be like that and the Livi game was one of those nights. It was quite damp out there and the pitch was really digging up so it was a good win. When we went 2-0 up we had the chances to go three or four but we didn’t take them and then they went up the park and scored. That put a wee bit of pressure on for the final few minutes, but we showed great character to hold on, dig in and get the three points.”
McGeouch admits Hibs are fortunate to have two attackers in such good goal-scoring form. Jason Cummings has scored 13 goals this season, while James Keatings made it five in two games with his double against Livingston. However, he feels the two marksman are benefitting significantly from the work of their team-mates to create openings. “It’s brilliant to have the two of them,” said McGeouch. “They are deadly up there and if they get half a chance they are putting the ball away. But credit to the boys as well for creating the chances for them. We are playing well as a team and when the chances come along, those boys are taking them.”
As the title race intensifies, Rangers manager Mark Warburton and Hibs boss Stubbs have been taking minor pot-shots at each other through the media. Meanwhile, Easter Road midfielder Marvin Bartley was claiming his side are stronger than their rivals on the same day that his Ibrox counterpart Andy Halliday insisted his team were unfazed by the challenge from the east. McGeouch insists he is in no mood to get involved in such off-field tittle-tattle. “I’ll be honest, I don’t really pay attention and I’m not just saying that,” he said. “I’m just interested in playing football and I’m not really caring what is going on. They are going out trying to win games and we are going out there trying to win games. We are on a good run and, as a team, we are just concentrating on the next game and getting ourselves ready and ticking results and teams off, hopefully. Whatever is said in the press is said in the press, but it’s what happens on the football park that matters.”