BY the time the final whistle blew at Easter Road on Saturday, it was more sigh of relief than Sunshine on Leith.
Three years, 1066 days and 25,584 hours since the last top-flight match played at the stadium, Hibs finally returned to the Scottish Premiership.
The Hibees’ 3-0 win over Queen of the South – courtesy of a double by Darren McGregor and a second-half header from David Gray – meant promotion rivals Falkirk had to beat St Mirren to stand any chance of reining in Neil Lennon’s side.
However, when news that the best the Bairns could muster was a 2-2 draw filtered through, the Easter Road faithful were in party mode, celebrating promotion as Championship winners at the third time of asking.
Season-ticket holder Matthew Wilson admitted he was “relieved” that the club finally achieved promotion back to the top flight and believes an extra year in the second tier was worth it to see the club end their 114-year wait for Scottish Cup glory last season. “It’s been a tough three seasons in the Championship with the likes of Rangers and Hearts in there two years ago and Rangers last,” he admitted.
“Going away to the likes of Alloa, Dumbarton and Cowdenbeath was a bit different at first, but the novelty wore off pretty quickly.”
“Defeat to Falkirk in the play-offs last season spurred us on to do the unthinkable, so in hindsight, if it was a trade between staying an extra season in the Championship and winning the cup, I’d have taken it in a heartbeat.”
Hibs initially experienced play-off heartache two seasons ago, losing to Rangers over two legs after watching city rivals Hearts run away with the title before a capitulation against Falkirk last year left the men in green and white adrift in the second tier for a third year in a row.
However, Lennon’s men have now secured the title with three games left of the league season and have the chance to retain the Scottish Cup with a semi-final showdown against Aberdeen to come at Hampden this weekend.
Lifelong Hibs fan Dillon Taylor believes there is a “feel-good factor” around the club and says the Hibees should be aiming for a top-six finish next season.
“We’re much stronger now than when we were relegated and we should be aiming for the top six next year at least,” he said.
“We’ve beaten a lot of Premiership teams in cup competitions over the past few years, so we’re definitely capable of challenging at that level.”
“The most important thing at the moment is to hold on to our key players like John McGinn and Jason Cummings so we can build a team around them and really go and compete.”
Chief executive Leeann Dempster paid tribute to the fans following the game, saying: “It would be wrong to celebrate without first thanking you, Hibernian’s magnificent supporters, for standing by your club during these difficult three years.
“Through it all you continued to turn out and support your team in increasing numbers.
“Winning this Championship is dedicated to you and your families who have kept this club going through the years.”
Champions – Pages 41-44