Paul HANLON today set his sights on a top six finish despite a miserable start to the season in which Hibs have picked up just four points from their opening four matches.
Defeats by Motherwell and Hearts had racked up the pressure on the Easter Road outfit following their ignominious exit from the Europa League, suffering a record 9-0 aggregate loss over the two legs against Swedish club Malmo.
But since then Pat Fenlon’s side have mounted two spirited fightbacks to claim their first point of the season with a 1-1 draw against Dundee United before clinching an inaugural victory over Kilmarnock.
And former Scotland Under-21 skipper Hanlon believes the desire and determination on show at Rugby Park – despite Hibs going behind to Barry Nicholson’s wonder strike – can provide the platform for a push into the Scottish Premiership’s top six, a position they’ve failed to achieve in each of the last three seasons.
The defender said: “The boys are full of confidence after getting our first win which I thought was fully deserved. Even though we went a goal down we showed great spirit to come back. At the time you just try to regroup and go again. We felt we were well in the game, we were creating chances. Rowan Vine had an offside goal and Owain Tudur Jones had played a few good balls across the box.
“So when that happens you have to accept it, really. It was some hit and there wasn’t a lot we could do about it. We just had to work together, to keep going and thankfully we managed to get the two goals in the second half.”
The relief of finally getting that first victory has, Hanlon admitted, been evident at the club’s East Mains training centre as Fenlon’s players prepared for today’s clash with Ross County. He said: “I have noticed a bit of a difference. Obviously after a win you are full of confidence.
“But even when results weren’t going our way earlier we didn’t let ourselves get too down. We knew we weren’t too far away. It just needed to click into place and thankfully it has. I’m sure every team is the same when the season starts – you just want to get that first win on the board.
“I thought we were unlucky to get beaten in our first two games. We maybe didn’t do enough to win them, but we certainly didn’t deserve to lose them, so we were desperate to get that win and now we want to push on.”
The key to being able to do that, as Hanlon agreed, will be a solid home record with the onus on Fenlon’s players to turn the jeers which have greeted recent performances into cheers.
Hanlon said: “We were delighted to get off the mark in terms of a win, but home games are where we want to be winning. We want to get the fans back and push on from here.
“It’s difficult here sometimes. You want them [the fans] to be cheering all the time, but we are the ones on the pich that need to make them cheer and get behind us. If we are not producing the goods then they are the ones who are paying their money to come and see us.”
A veteran of almost six years of first-team football at Easter Road and with more than 160 matches, Hanlon is well aware of the pressure playing for a club like Hibs brings, particularly after three seasons of failure as far as league position is concerned.
He said: “Hibs are a big club with big expectations, so we need to live up to them. We might get a bit more leeway now we have won a game, but if we start off poorly or we’re not playing the way we should, then they are going to get on our backs. I’m sure it’s the same at most clubs. We just need to concentrate on our performance and put on a show for them. We set out our standards last week. We showed how good we can be at times.”
Tenth, 11th and seventh-place finishes in the past three seasons have, however, not been good enough as Hanlon conceded, the 23-year-old revealing sights have been set higher. He said: “First and foremost we have got to make the top six. If you finish in the top six you still have a chance of finishing in Europe with a late push like St Johnstone did last season.
“So that’s where we have to be and anything higher we’d be delighted. We have a good mixture of experience and youth and we’d all be disappointed if we did not make it.
“But the league is so tight, anyone can beat anyone. So it’s about concentrating on ourselves and if we can put together a good run of results then we’ll have a chance.”