Paul Hanlon claims Hibs have defied the odds by keeping themselves in the chase for Europe after engineering a “massive turnaround” in their season.
Eleven points adrift of Capital rivals Hearts when new boss Paul Heckingbottom took over less than two months ago, an unbeaten run of eight league matches has taken the Easter Road side two clear of the Jambos. Heckingbottom’s side now sit in fifth place after Daryl Horgan’s two goals earned them a first victory at Tynecastle in six years. However, Hanlon insisted that while staying above Hearts is one target, the focus is also on seeking to reel in the two teams ahead of them, Aberdeen and Kilmarnock.
Hanlon, along with Lewis Stevenson the only survivor from that previous victory in Gorgie, admitted he and his team-mates face a stiff test if they are to do that in the five post-split matches but said: “We have put ourselves in this position and now we have to make the most of it.
“If you go back to just before the manager came in, everybody had written us off as far as making the top six.
“It was always going to be a big ask, so to show the form we have done is great. We now have to try and keep it going and see where we finish. It has been a massive turnaround. It is exciting and it is what you want at this stage of the season.”
While Heckingbottom admitted he’d have “snapped your hand off” to be assured of a top-six finish with a game to spare, Hanlon insisted that, having taken the race for a second-place finish in Hibs’ first season back in the Premiership down to the penultimate game, such a scenario would have been seen as a failure.
However, having taken 20 points from a possible 24 under Heckingbottom, Hibs, he claimed, have also shown a steely side to their character, citing how they’d dug in to beat Livingston away before coming back from going behind to Peter Haring’s goal to defeat Hearts.
He said: “If we didn’t finish in the top six it would have been a disappointing season. We have managed to turn it around when the odds were against us.
“We are in good shape, confidence is high amongst the boys and we are playing nice football. We have also shown we can dig in and win games as we did here and against Livingston last week.”