Ian Murray believes Hibs can end their rollercoaster season on a high by finishing as the Capital’s top dogs for the second year in succession.
The Easter Road side have trailed Hearts for the entirety of the campaign so far, with the gap between the two Edinburgh sides reaching a whopping 11 points at the end of the first weekend in February, when Hibs lost to Aberdeen a day after their city rivals had won at Kilmarnock. However, after an impressive resurgence under recently-installed head coach Paul Heckingbottom, Hibs have climbed to within two points of fifth-place Hearts, whom they will face twice between now and the end of the season, assuming both sides remain in the top six.
Midfielder Marvin Bartley and Heckingbottom both stated after last weekend’s win over Motherwell that Hibs now have the Tynecastle side firmly in their sights. Former captain Murray feels overhauling Hearts and finishing above them for the second year in a row would ensure Hibs had something to celebrate at the end of a turbulent campaign in which they slipped from second place to eighth between October and January and also changed managers. “There’s no reason why Hibs can’t catch Hearts,” Murray told the Evening News.
“They’ve still got each other to play twice and those games are where it’s probably going to be decided. Hearts probably have a slight advantage because the last game before the split is at Tynecastle. Both Hearts and Hibs have had highlights and lowlights this season but the lowlights are soon forgotten if you finish ahead of your city rivals. If Hibs can finish above Hearts, then they’ll see that as a good season.”
Hibs’ recent form has also taken them within six points of fourth-place Kilmarnock, whom they still have to play twice, and within seven of Aberdeen in the battle for European places. Murray feels it is unlikely his old team will be able to haul themselves into the top four, however.
“I think catching Hearts is a more realistic target than getting into Europe,” he said. “Getting into the top four at this stage would take a huge effort from Hibs. Aberdeen and Kilmarnock are really strong and don’t lose many games. The head-to-heads with those teams will count hugely but I think the top four will finish the way it is just now, with Hibs and Hearts probably battling for fifth. Hearts are still in the Scottish Cup so they’ll have an eye on that as well.
“Hibs don’t have the cup so, until it’s mathematically impossible, they’ll keep saying they have an eye on the top four.
“To do that, they would have to get ahead of Hearts first anyway so that’s got to be their primary concern at the moment. It’s a chance to finish above Hearts for the second season in a row which would be something for Hibs to take from the season and build on for next season.”
Heckingbottom has led Hibs to 13 points from his first five games in charge and Murray, currently manager of Airdrie, has been impressed by the way the Yorkshireman has got the team moving in the right direction after their mid-season slump.
“They couldn’t get their consistency earlier in the season,” said Murray.
“I didn’t think they looked like a bottom-six side but, at the same time, you couldn’t have said they were a definite top-six team.
“The way they’ve hauled themselves back into it has been impressive. They look like they’re going to get top six and they’re only two points behind Hearts with two games against them still to come. It’s positive signs.”