Analysis: The story behind Hibs' nine-month unbeaten away form
By the time Hibs rock up in Maryhill for Saturday afternoon's meeting with Partick Thistle, a full nine months will have elapsed since they last lost an away league match.
A midweek 2-0 defeat in the Scottish Championship against St Mirren on 1 March remains the Easter Road side’s most recent defeat at the home of an opponent. “That feels like years ago to me,” said Brian McLean, who was an unused substitute in Paisley after signing for Hibs on a short-term deal earlier that day. “I was in the dressing-room after that game and it wasn’t a nice place to be. I would imagine the majority of the boys have absorbed what was said that evening, and that’s probably helped them maintain their standards away from home.”
Since getting back on track in their following away game by recording a crucial 1-0 win away to Championship title rivals Dundee United, Neil Lennon’s side have come through 12 away league matches in a row unscathed. Eight of those have come in the Premiership, with four wins and four draws bringing a return of 16 points from a possible 24 on the road since their elevation from the second tier.
That St Mirren game in March stands as Hibs’ only defeat in 18 away league matches since losing to Dundee United a year ago this weekend. Even incorporating their six cup matches away from Easter Road over the past 12 months, their only defeats came in the two national cup semi-finals on neutral soil.
Hibs, Celtic and Stirling Albion are the only sides in Scotland yet to lose an away game in the league so far this season. Victories at Ibrox, the Global Energy Stadium, Fir Park and Rugby Park have been augmented by draws at McDiarmid Park, Dens Park, Celtic Park and the SuperSeal Stadium, with the consensus being that Hibs played well enough to have justified victory in each of the games which ended all square. Having also ground out a goalless draw away to Hearts in the Scottish Cup in February, Pittodrie is the only one of Scotland’s most imposing stadia at which Hibs’ away-day resilience hasn’t been tested in 2017; they head to Aberdeen a fortnight on Saturday.
Ability to control possession and simultaneously frustrate their hosts, a clinical edge, and a collective resolve well honed by Lennon and his batch of hardy team players are deemed key factors in the Edinburgh side’s consistent run of point-collecting on their travels. “They never seem to get played off the park away from home,” said McLean, who was part of Hibs’ dressing room for two months at the end of last season and has since continued to pay close attention to their exploits. “There is a stubbornness within the manager regarding being hard to beat, which he seems to have projected on to the team. Everybody wants to see pretty football but if you asked every Hibs fan if they’d take at least a point from every away game by hook or by crook, they’d be delighted.
“It’s not like Hibs are just avoiding defeat in away matches – they’re winning a good amount of them and playing well, which is fantastic. That boils down to how well the team has gelled under the manager. They’ve got a lot of good quality British players and that has a big influence on how the team play. The British mentality is so important at this level in terms of being up against it on the road, soaking up pressure and trying to get over the line and get away with a result.
“Hibs seem to have that resilience and stubbornness about them and they’re also clinical at the other end. It helps when you’ve got boys like Darren McGregor, Marvin Bartley, Paul Hanlon and John McGinn who are putting their body on the line for the team. Hibs have got a squad full of boys with a drive and a hunger about them.”
As well as being robust under pressure, Hibs, led by their elegant midfield conductor Dylan McGeouch, boast an ability to dictate matches unmatched by most teams in Scotland. McLean was reminded of this during a recent trip to watch his old colleagues. “I went down to Rugby Park when Hibs battered Kilmarnock 3-0 in Steve Clarke’s first home game in charge,” said the defender, who is back in Scotland after his season with Icelandic side IBV Vestmannaeyjar came to an end. “That would have been a difficult challenge for Hibs because Killie would have been hoping to impress their new manager but Hibs totally nullified their threat, especially in the first half, and they were also really clinical in front of goal. Dylan McGeouch took the sting out the game and controlled the tempo for Hibs, which is massive away from home. He is an unsung hero in that team. He always tries to get on the ball and dictate the play. To play at your own pace when you go to someone else’s stadium is a key ingredient to getting a result. They’ve also got Marvin Bartley sitting in there to solidify things. They’ve got such a good balance.”
Hibs’ long unbeaten away run is given further perspective by the fact they have lost three of their seven matches at Easter Road in the Premiership this season. “Their home form is still decent,” said McLean. “I was surprised they lost at home to St Johnstone but maintaining consistency is one of the hardest things in football. It’s impossible to get the majority of a team producing top performances every single week in Scotland, otherwise the players wouldn’t be playing in this country, but Hibs have shown, particularly with their away form, that they have a group of players who have the resilience to get the job done more often than not.”