Niklas Gunnarsson probably emerged as Hibs’ unlikeliest match-winner, his first goal for the Easter Road outfit rekindling hopes of overhauling Falkirk to snatch second place in the Championship.
But, the big Norwegian revealed, he had a hunch he would score against Rangers on Wednesday night following a chat on the phone with his dad, former football manager Ronny.
His gut feeling was reinforced by assistant head coach Andy Holden and first-team coach John Doolan, the pair telling him that, if he got himself into the danger area, he’d get that chance.
And how he took it when it arrived, the 24-year-old hammering home an unstoppable shot for what proved to be decisive in a five-goal thriller which saw Alan Stubbs’ players slash the Bairns’ advantage to three points with a game in hand.
“I spoke with my father the day before the game,” disclosed Gunnarsson, “and I had a feeling I would score if I got to play.
“I was also speaking to Taff [Holden] and John during training that day, again before the game and then at half-time and they were saying to me ‘get into the box and you will get a chance’.
“So it was a good feeling to actually do it. I was in the right place and got a good strike after Anthony Stokes had got a touch to Paul Hanlon’s header across goal.
“My main priority was to hit the ball cleanly. I knew if I did that then the goalkeeper would have difficulties.
“I was very happy to score, of course, but the most important thing is the team and getting the win.”
The importance of Gunnarsson’s strike was obvious, a mistake by goalkeeper Mark Oxley just before half-time allowing Jason Holt to throw a lifeline to Championship title winners Rangers, who were two down after Jason Cummings had cashed in on an error by Rob Kiernan before Ibrox No.1 Wes Foderingham somehow managed to fumble a Stokes cross into his own net.
Holt’s tap-in had put a different complexion on the game, but Gunnarsson widened Hibs’ advantage again and, although Barrie McKay hammered home a spectacular second for Rangers, Stubbs’ players held on for a vital win.
Gunnarsson said: “The gaffer was satisfied at half-time but told us to concentrate because we’d lost concentration in that match against Falkirk.
“But I think everyone did a great job, we worked hard and got our rewards. It was a well organised, disciplined performance. We know we are a compact team that’s difficult to score against when we are performing.
“We’d got off to a great start, Jason is really sharp and he’d scored a similar goal last week against Falkirk. He’s a goalscorer and when he gets a chance he invariably takes it. That’s 24 for the season which is very good, something he can be proud of.
“And I really hope Anthony gets that goal credited to him because he deserves it.”
Gunnarsson and his team-mates endured a nervy final few minutes after McKay had reduced the leeway for a second time but he revealed they used the bitter disappointment of conceding twice late on against the Bairns to good effect.
“With 85 minutes on the clock we were talking to each other, saying we had to really concentrate to show the fans and the gaffer we can perform when it’s tight and especially when Rangers had pushed most of their players up front.
“As far as their first goal is concerned, these things happen in football but Ox made a great save right at the end and then came and confidently took the last corner.
“He’s strong mentally as a goalkeeper and gives us confidence.”
The significance of taking all three points had been emphasised before kick-off by Stubbs but it’s now a case of ensuring Hibs’ three remaining matches, starting with tomorrow’s trip to Cappielow, also end in victory.
Gunnarsson said: “The gaffer had said after training, ‘lads, this is a must-win game’, so I think he was very pleased we did what was expected by him.
“We’ve beaten the league winners but there’s no good doing that if we don’t follow it up with three more wins.
“We need to do that to have a chance of taking second place but we might also need a bit of luck. It will also depend on how Falkirk fare in their last two games, but if we win all three of ours then we’ve done all we can.”
Falkirk also enjoy a superior goal difference, seven better off than Hibs but, insisted Gunnarsson, he and his team-mates can’t even start to contemplate racking up big wins against Morton, Dumbarton and Queen of the South.
Gunnarsson, who is on loan from Norwegian outfit Valerenga until the end of the season, said: “It would be nice to score a few goals, but I think we have to concentrate solely on making sure we take three points from each of the games. If we do that I think we’ll be in with a good chance of second.”
Losing 3-0 at home to Morton was the start of Hibs’ season beginning to go horribly wrong, the win against Rangers only their second in nine games but Gunnarsson reckons the corner has been turned.
“That Morton game was a strange one. We dominated for 35 minutes, had many chances but didn’t score and they did.
“It was the same against Dumbarton in our next game, we had 18 chances, but only scored two. They had four and scored three. It happens in football, look at Arsenal recently.
“If we were winning every week it would be amazing, but it’s hard to keep the same standards going.
“But the confidence is back now. We put in a good performance against Falkirk although it was disappointing to lose those two goals in the final few minutes.
“Then we showed our strength of character to come through the Scottish Cup semi-final against another Premiership side in Dundee United and now we’ve beaten the league winners.
“There is no doubt this club has done something great. We’re in a second cup final with the chance to win the Scottish Cup which, we know, Hibs haven’t done in 114 years.
“But the main target remains promotion.
“Obviously we are doing a good job, we have a maximum of ten games left and we have to perform in them all.
“After tomorrow our last two games before the play-offs are at home in front of our own fans and I think if we get the same support as they gave us against Rangers we shouldn’t have any problems.
“Of course we have to do our part and perform well out on the pitch but the fans can be a huge factor, when they are celebrating and making a noise then that’s good for us.”