Dominique Malonga is reasonably happy with a prolific start to his Hibs career which has helped earn him cult-hero status at Easter Road.
However, after spending the past two months building up his match fitness and getting his family settled into a new home in Edinburgh, the big French-born Congolese striker is now intent on cranking things up a notch or two.
In his nine appearances since signing for Hibs exactly two months ago, the 25-year-old has scored six times, including a debut goal, a derby strike and a match-winning double against Ross County in the League Cup. Having got his feet under the table, he is eager to take things to the next level.
“I am happy with six goals so far but I can still do better,” Malonga told the Evening News. “For the start, it is ok. I feel good [fitness-wise]. I played the full 120 minutes against Dundee United last week which was a very good sign because it was a very hard game. Game after game, I feel better.
“I work to try and help my team-mates win every game. My responsibility is to try to score, but it’s not just about that. I also have to help the team move well and give other people the possibility to score. I want to show my game in different ways. In my head, I have a target for how many goals I want, but we will just wait and see. I want to score every time I go on the pitch. I just want to win every game.”
Malonga, who has played in France, Italy and Spain, is far from the archetypal British centre-forward. Despite being 6ft 1in, he is anything but a battering ram, with most of his best work done on the deck, usually in a languid manner. “Dominique is not going to be one that chases everything down, runs around and bashes centre-backs,” said head coach Alan Stubbs last week.
Malonga admits he is more accustomed to the finer side of the game, but is eager to add a touch of brute force to his play during his time in Scotland. “I prefer the ball on the ground, but I want to work on my aerial game,” he said. “My play is best on the floor, linking up with other people. I like Scottish football – it is a strong game. It is a good experience for me. It is different to what I was used to in France, Italy or Spain. In Spain, it’s more technical, in Italy, it’s more tactical, but in Scotland you are more free.”
Having fixed up a flat in Leith for himself, his Italian wife – whom he met while at Torino – and their nine-month-old son Matthew, Malonga feels at ease in his new environment. “It’s very important for me to have my family here with me,” he said. “Edinburgh is a great city. I am very happy to be here and I enjoy coming down to East Mains every day to train with my team-mates. I have a great relationship with everyone here – all the players have made me welcome.”
So have the Hibs fans, who have taken him to their hearts and sing his name to the tune of “Do the Conga”.
“I have found the supporters great – I am very proud to be here and play for them,” he continued. “I just want to score many goals for them. It’s funny when I hear them singing my name. I like my song. Every time I hear them sing my name, I try to wave to them. I can’t do it all the time because I need to focus on the pitch, but I like to acknowledge them when I can.”
Malonga has forged a promising partnership with teenager Jason Cummings, with the “little and large” duo starting Hibs’ last seven matches together in attack. “Jason is a good guy,” he said. “He is my friend. We joke all the time in training. He’s a good young player and I think, playing with me, he can get even better. Jason is very quick and mobile – he’s good for me to play with. I think together, and with Farid [El Alagui] when he comes back [from injury], we will have the possibility to score many goals.”
Hibs will be aiming to make it six league games without defeat when they travel to Cowdenbeath on Saturday. The Blue Brazil hold fond memories for Malonga, who made a goal-scoring debut against them as he came off the bench to help Hibs fight back and secure a dramatic 3-2 win at Easter Road on 13 September. Since then, Hibs have gradually climbed away from the Championship’s relegation zone and into the top four.
“I remember before that game against Cowdenbeath, it was a bad week because I had a problem in my stomach,” he said. “But on the pitch, I felt good, I scored a goal and we won the game in the last seconds. It is a good game to remember. It was great. Now we have another game against them and we go there to win. The team has progressed well since then. We have been unlucky in the last two games [against Hearts and Dundee United] but I am happy with the way the team is going.”
Hibs currently sit 14 points adrift of league leaders Hearts and ten behind second-placed Rangers.
Malonga knows what is required to secure promotion to the top flight, with his best spell in football coming when he helped Cesena – whom he spent five years with – go up from Serie B to Serie A in the 2009/10 season. He knows it will be a tall order for Hibs to do likewise and secure an instant return to Scotland’s top flight, but believes it is attainable.
“To get promoted, you have to be consistent,” he said. “You have to focus on winning every time you play. Mentality is very important. We can close the gap, but to do that, as well as doing well against Rangers and Hearts, we also have to win against teams like Cowdenbeath. I think we have the possibility to win every game in the Championship if we have the right focus.”