Alarm bells ringing as Hibs wake up to battle for relevance

Pressure mounting on Monty's men as they slip out of top six
A dejected Nectar Triantis at full-time in Dingwall.A dejected Nectar Triantis at full-time in Dingwall.
A dejected Nectar Triantis at full-time in Dingwall.

It’s a little late for a wake-up call. Even for a bunch of guys who wouldn’t have arrived home until the not so wee, not so small hours of this morning after the long, dark, depressing trek from Dingwall to East Lothian.

If Hibs do not heed the alarm bells sounding in the wake of their 2-2 draw with Ross County, however, they’ll be doing themselves – and their supporters – a disservice. Because, while they may have flattered to deceive in the odd outing, with the arrival of new blood heralding the sort of mid-season excitement that dared punters to dream, Nick Montgomery’s men surely understand exactly what they are.

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Anyone need it spelled out? They’re the very epitome of a mid-table team. Almost the definition of bang average, in Scottish Premiership terms. That brief renaissance period where they were within touching distance of third place seems a long, long time ago – a week or so before Christmas, to be precise. As does, mercifully, that miserable start to the league campaign under Lee Johnson, when they bumped along the foot of the division.

They’re not good enough to play well for 45 minutes and put three or four goals past a team like County, who are fully deserving of 11th place despite gaining ground on an Aberdeen side who seem to exist only to remind Hibs fans that things could be much worse. This team lack the competence, ability, cohesion and killer instinct to cope with the odd – and even – bad decision from match officials having quite the season, themselves.

All of the above is understandable, when you look at the mess Montgomery inherited from Lee Johnson and, to be blunt, the lingering effects of repeated transfer market misadventures on a squad that contained a lot of awkwardly shaped pegs unlikely to fill any of the holes so obvious to the new manager on his arrival. But some of it seemed to be forgotten in recent weeks.

Let’s take a look, then, at the key issues affecting Hibs right now:

Sixth place is far from secure

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It was only natural that, when Hibs beat Dundee at home - and then picked up another couple of positive results - to leapfrog the Dark Blues and inch their way into the top six, some would assume that there would be no reversal of those positions. They’d seen off their nearest competitor in a head-to-head contest and, looking at their respective run-ins, it was hard to see Tony Docherty’s men getting themselves in front again.

But Dundee are nothing if not combative and competitive. As Aberdeen found out last night. While Hibs will hope that this weekend will witness another swapping of league places, with Rangers at Dens and Livingston the visitors to Easter Road, they can’t rely on ANYONE in this league doing them favours, Montgomery admitting: “We have to look after ourselves, get the points we need. That’s all we can focus on.”

Single points won’t do

Undefeated in their last five league games, Hibs aren’t exactly enduring a horror run to compare with their start to this season. But wins are needed, with Dundee’s most recent five fixtures – a 7-1 thrashing by Celtic and that loss to Hibs, but one draw and two victories – underlining their importance.

Three victories out of their final four pre-split fixtures should get the job done for Hibs. Should. But that is far, far easier said than done.


Livingston loss must be avenged

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Johnson’s final game as Hibs boss was a home loss to Livi. It came just a couple of days after being hammered by Aston Villa. Ask any Hibs fans and they’ll tell you that the 3-2 defeat by local rivals hurt much worse than seeing John McGinn and chums knock five unanswered goals past David Marshall.

With David Martindale’s men suffering from a sickness bug, there may never be a better chance to deliver a little payback for that loss. But Livingston coach Brian Rice didn’t look too terrified as he watched Hibs from a ringside seat in Dingwall last night.

Lino! Lino, man!

Just … I mean … could you … maybe … ach, we give up. Well, no, that’s not allowed. These are the officials we have. The only sane solution, in the short-term, is to factor the odd howler into the equation.

Even as he was fizzing about the throw-in decision that went against his boys in the eighth minute of injury time, Montgomery noted: “We have to be responsible for not stopping the cross and not defending in the box, although we shouldn’t have had to because it was our throw-in …”

Why bother?

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Apologies for getting all existential. But it’s worth reminding everyone why it actually matters that Hibs are sitting in sixth place come the split, even if they’re so far off fifth that their season could be ended on the first weekend of top-half action.

A home derby. A feeling that at least something has been salvaged from the season. And a chance to prove, in one-off fixtures, that they are better than the table suggests. Potentially, if not actually.