Paul Heckingbottom is excited to see how his Hibs team handle a tough end to the season after they secured their top-six place.
The Easter Road side’s goalless draw at home to Kilmarnock coupled with Motherwell’s defeat at Aberdeen was enough to ensure they will be playing out the remainder of the campaign among the top teams in the Premiership.
Heckingbottom, who has taken Hibs from eighth to sixth over the past two months thanks to a seven-game unbeaten run in the league, is looking forward to learning how his team cope with the intense demands of travelling to Hearts this Saturday and then facing the current top five in consecutive matches after the split.
“I’m delighted to get top six,” he said. “The players deserve a massive pat on the back, a lot of credit because five wins and two draws is a great run of form. We’re looking to build on that now. Our first objective is done - it’s in the bank and we can move forward now.
“I want the players really focused on pushing to get better every day. That’s the only way we’ll get where we want to be. The games will keep getting harder and that’s what I want. I haven’t shared this before but, from a personal point of view, If we had not got top six, I wouldn’t have really known too much about the players going into next season.
“From a development point of view and in terms of getting better, I wanted to be playing the top teams again. It’s only then that we’ll really know where we are and what we need to get better at. We’ve got Hearts twice then every other game will be against a top side. That’s what I want. Next year, we want to be competing against those sides. Let’s see where we are now. Form suggests we’re right up there with them. But let’s see when we play them week in, week out.”
Following a game of few chances at Easter Road, Heckingbottom praised goalkeeper Ofir Marciano for a superb second-half save to deny Jordan Jones after a misplaced pass from Paul Hanlon had allowed the Kilmarnock winger clean through on goal. “It was a tough and tight game, exactly as I expected,” said the manager. “I knew it would be them defending really well, with bodies behind the ball, looking to break on us really quickly. We knew we had to be really diligent to stop their counter-attacks.
“It was a really good save from Ofir. That was a moment when I feared the worst. But it was a save, it didn’t just hit him. He got a real strong hand up and made a real good save. Big moments like that win you games.”