A year on since arriving at Easter Road, Dominique Malonga continues to be a “Marmite” type of character among the Hibs support, dividing opinion with that languid style of his which is also accompanied by flashes of brilliance.
Only a few weeks ago, the striker was being berated for missing a “sitter” from only a couple of yards out against Livingston. His reply? A 60-yard solo run to clinch a League Cup win over then Premiership leaders Aberdeen and, only a few days ago, a stunning strike to send Alan Stubbs’ side on their way to victory against Dumbarton.
Malonga, however, treats both the brickbats and adulation in equal measure, the 26-year-old having total confidence in his own ability, brushing aside the observation that he doesn’t meet the “typical British centre forward” criteria expected of frontmen in this country with the retort: “I am Franco-Congolese. I play like I play.
“I know what I can do on the pitch and I think I am good. I am really confident and I don’t care about people thinking I am lazy. It makes me laugh when people say I am not of the style of a British striker. I am just me – I play like me.”
Such is Malonga’s faith in himself, he revealed his miss at the newly named Toni Macaroni Arena was forgotten by him long before it was by those who witnessed it, saying: “That’s the life of a striker. I can miss from two yards but I know I can score a lot of goals. It happened, you move on. When you play, whether good or bad, you just move on and think about the next game.
“I missed against Livingston and then scored that goal when we played Aberdeen. I knew I had a long way to run but I kept going, thinking about scoring and I did.”
Malonga’s assertion that he can score many more than he misses was backed up by the 16 goals he claimed in his first season in Edinburgh despite the Paris-born player arriving after the campaign had begun and then absent for more than a month as he left on Africa Cup of Nations duty with his adopted country Congo.
His form on returning, however, didn’t quite match what he’d produced previously and a slow start this season following speculation that he might be departing during the summer transfer window did, head coach Alan Stubbs revealed, lead to him finding himself on the sidelines.
Stubbs said: “As a footballer it’s all about reaction. We left him out of the team – and it could have been anybody – because we felt as though he needed to pick up his game.
“Since he’s come back in, he’s answered me in the way you wanted any footballer to do.”
And despite Malonga’s laid-back approach to life, Stubbs fully appreciates what he brings to his side. He said: “Dom does things in his own time and when he’s ready. Sometimes things have to come to him rather than the other way round.
“He is what he is and we like him. It sometimes depends on supporters’ interpretation of what they like as a player. In England you probably see more of that type of player, whereas in Scotland, with the football being a bit faster, you don’t see that type of player that often.
“He played a lot of football in Europe, where it can be slower and technical. It becomes more of a game of cat-and-mouse. But if you weigh up his stats and his record, his goals to games ratio is very good.”
As rumour and speculation surrounded Malonga’s future, Stubbs concentrated on strengthening his strike-force even further, adding James Keatings, Martin Boyle, Islam Feruz and Jamie Insall to add to Jason Cummings and Farid El Alagui, acquisitions which, naturally, Malonga took in his stride.
He said: “I do not disrespect my team-mates – I have a lot of respect for them – but if I train and play well then I’ll play.
“Competition is competition. I had a lot of competition when I played in Italy and Spain and if I trained well and put my mind on the field then I think I am good enough to play. I don’t worry about that.
“I had options but I have always been a Hibs player and happy to be here. I don’t want to be thinking about the transfer window. You never know what happens in the future, but for now I am here and all I think about is playing well and doing my best in games.”
And with Malonga, Cummings and Keatings all scoring against Dumbarton, Stubbs’ assertion that as a manager you can never have enough strikers was underlined and one with which he concurs.
He said: “I was happy to see Keats back because he has had a lot of injuries. Hopefully the three of us will play again and enjoy scoring again together.”
And Malonga revealed he’ll be adopting exactly the same approach as he has to every match over the coming 13 days when Hibs face the toughest of schedules, taking on their rivals at the top of the Championship table, tonight’s visit to Falkirk followed by a trip to face Raith Rovers on Saturday and then the visit of leaders Rangers the next week end.
“You just need to play game after game and try to win,” he insisted. “Simple as that.”