Hibs boss Alan Stubbs has warned his players they will have to top the performance in which they beat Rangers 3-1 at Ibrox if they are to defeat the Glasgow side again tomorrow.
The Easter Road outfit go into the lunchtime kick-off knowing victory will cut the gap between themselves and second-placed Rangers to four points.
However, despite the turmoil surrounding the Glasgow club, Stubbs believes they remain favourites to win this Championship clash.
Hibs not only enjoyed that victory in Govan at the end of September but ran Rangers close in their opening game of the season, losing a Petrofac Training Cup tie in extra time after Danny Handling was red-carded, an incident which many felt was the turning point in the match.
Stubbs, however, consigned those performances to history, telling his players: “We can look back on those games, but they are gone. It’s what we do tomorrow that’s the most important thing.
“If we are going to get a result then I want an improvement from our last performance because we are going to need it.
“It’s going to be a really tough game with Rangers going into it probably as favourites, but that’s irrelevant. We are at home and we are going to make it as difficult as we can. There’s no reason to feel inferior, not at all, and we certainly won’t be. The players have a lot of belief and their confidence is very high.”
With a visit to Hearts following hard on the heels of tomorrow’s match, Stubbs understands that many will judge his side’s progress on the outcome of this double-header but, he insisted, he will reserve judgment until the end of the season.
He said: “It’s a great opportunity for us because we have a chance to try to eke into the gap on both teams. That’s what we have to look to do. Over the festive period there’s always some interesting games and the fixture calendar has thrown us up against our two biggest rivals.
“A lot of people will say they are two tough fixtures, but I think they are great fixtures to play.”
However, Stubbs conceded that, given Hibs’ stuttering start to the season, his players may at one time not have shared his opinion. But with just one defeat in 12 league games, he believes his side are an entirely different proposition today.
He said: “I’m really looking forward to these games and I know the players feel the same way. There might have been a time when they might not have been looking forward to them as much, but I think there’s a different mindset, a different psyche to them now. They are not fearing games, there’s a real excitement and they are relishing the challenge.
“We have a really good chnce to get close to Rangers with a win and if we can do that, fantastic, it will set us up nicely for the Hearts game.”
Meanwhile, Hibs striker Dominique Malonga has been given the green light by Congo to play in the Edinburgh derby tomorrow week.
Malonga – called up for the Africa Cup of Nations – was due to join Claude Le Roy’s squad for a training camp the day before the Capital clash at Tynecastle.
However, the striker, scorer of 11 goals this term, has been given permission to travel later and join up with his international team-mates for a friendly with Cape Verde on January 10.