Darren McGregor believes Hibs’ exploits over the last week have reinvigorated them ahead of their season-defining month.
A Scottish Cup semi-final triumph over Dundee United last weekend followed by Wednesday’s 3-2 win over Championship title winners Rangers have lifted the gloom that had engulfed Easter Road after a damaging run of only two wins from 11 matches.
McGregor believes these two victories have restored battered confidence just in time to allow them a genuine crack at play-off and Scottish Cup glory over the next four and a half weeks.
“The last week’s been massive for the confidence,” said the defender. “It’s well documented that we’d been on a poor run but to get through to another national cup final and beat your arch enemy in a must-win game is a great boost going into the business end of the season.
“Football’s all about confidence, so when you’re on a losing run and conceding late goals like we were, it does prey on your mind sometimes. To finally get over that with a semi-final win over Dundee United and follow it up with a win against the champions breeds confidence. It means we now go into a tough game at Morton in high spirits.”
Today’s trip to Cappielow carries extra significance as Morton were effectively the team who set in motion a remarkable two-month collapse in which their League Cup and Championship title hopes died. Hibs had lost only one game in 28 prior to Jim Duffy’s side arriving at Easter Road on February 24 and blitzing them 3-0. That setback has taken some time to recover from.
“We could have been a few goals up before they scored,” said McGregor. “They only had about three chances and they buried every one of them. They were all bad goals from our point of view and that was the start of a bad run for us. It was a bad performance and it seemed to carry on for the next few games. When you’re winning, you never really think about losing, but when you start losing, especially when the other team’s only having one or two shots on goal, it can start to put a few doubts in players’ heads.
“We knew we hadn’t turned a bad team overnight though. I believe it was a mixture of being a bit unlucky allied to losing our confidence a bit. I think we’re back to where we should be at the most important stage of the season.”
The main obstacle to Hibs achieving their goals would appear to be a heavy fixture list, with three more league games to play over the next week, and then up to six play-off games and a Scottish Cup final against Rangers in the space of just three weeks in May. The club are trying everything possible to ensure their players remain in peak condition and McGregor, who is approaching his 31st birthday, is confident that he and his team-mates can cope with the gruelling schedule.
“Physically I feel fine,” he said. “I’m getting on a bit but the gaffer’s good with us. He recognises that we’ve got a really intense run of games. We’ve been taking extra rehab work and massage and taking on protein drinks before and after matches. It’s all geared towards looking after each of us individually, so all we have to do is look after ourselves when we’re away from the club. I always do that anyway so I feel fine.
“If I’m being honest, I’m probably not as fresh as I felt earlier in the season, but I find the lack of freshness makes me more resilient and more focused. Because I know I’m not quite as sharp as I was earlier in the season, I probably concentrate even more just now. You could see at the end against Rangers that we were all totally concentrated because we knew that one slip or one misplaced pass could have cost us our chance of finishing second. When it gets to this stage of the season and late in games, it’s just as much about concentration as it is about your physicality.”