Ian MURRAY reckons a combination of steel and silk will see Hibs continue their haul away from the foot of the SPL table after successive wins over St Mirren and Kilmarnock opened up an eight point gap on basement outfit Hamilton.
The Easter Road skipper was the first to admit that Colin Calderwood’s side were far from out of danger yet, but insisted the battling qualities on display, particularly in Saturday’s hard-fought win over Killie, suggest the future is now looking at least a touch brighter.
Murray agreed that Hibs had perhaps been looked upon as a “soft touch” by many of their opponents as they struggled through the first half of the season but he believes Calderwood’s January signings have helped bring a fresh air of confidence to the dressing-room.
Icelandic Under-21 star Victor Palsson, former Nottingham Forest midfielder Matt Thornhill and ex-Charlton Athletic striker Akpo Sodje in particular have quickly earned themselves the approval of the Hibee support.
As a consequence Hibs suddenly look a more robust unit, one which is harder to beat and, as evidenced in the display against Kilmarnock, a team filled with players ready to battle for each other until the final whistle.
Utility man Murray said: “I think we always felt the league was really tight in terms of football ability and we always knew we could compete football-wise. I think people maybe saw us as a little bit of a soft touch and perhaps they were right.
“But now you see a little bit of steel. People might disagree, but I think the fighting spirit has been there all season, it’s just been that we have not performed the way we can.
“Now we seem to have the combination of that fighting spirit and the way we can play.”
Murray believes the gritty determination shown in the final 19 minutes against Killie after Francis Dickoh had been sent off – his challenge on Kieran Agard earning Mixu Paatelainen’s side a penalty converted by Jamie Hamill, cutting the lead which had been gained by first goals in a green and white shirt from Sodje and Palsson – underlined his point-of-view.
The circumstances were such that in the past most would have expected Hibs to have capitulated, but Murray said: “There was a good save from Stacky [Graham Stack] near the end when they were pushing for an equaliser, but overall I think we deserved it for our effort and the way we went about our business.”
While naturally delighted to see Hibs win back-to-back matches for the first time since they did so against Rangers and Motherwell back in November, Murray insisted there was still plenty of work to be done, both in continuing to pull themselves clear of trouble and in seeking to overhaul those teams immediately above them.
To that end, he argued, Sunday’s visit to Paisley to face Saints for a second time in a fortnight, the first leg of the “double-header” having ended in a 2-0 win for Hibs, represented a “huge” fixture for the Edinburgh club.
He said: “We knew how important it was to get a result against Kilmarnock, having beaten St Mirren in our previous game. The worst we wanted was a draw but we got a good win and now we have to try to keep it going.
“Perhaps we got Kilmarnock at the right time, we knew they don’t change their system too much, we knew how they play, they pass the ball very well. But the fact they’d lost a couple of players to suspension probably helped us.
“And also having new players helps freshen things up. The fans were also terrific. It must have been very hard for them over these last few weeks, the way we’d been playing and the results.
“But they kept coming and I think as long as we show the effort and commitment they’ll be happy. However, no-one is going to get too carried away. We’ve had two home games and won them.
“If we can get another win on Sunday then perhaps we can look to start pushing ourselves up the table a bit.”
The first priority, though, is to totally extricate themselves from the threat of relegation, results over the past couple of weeks widening the gap between Hibs and Hamilton, which had narrowed to just two points, to eight. The Accies, however, have two games in hand, the first of which takes place as Billy Reid’s team take on Dundee United at Tannadice, emphasising, claimed Murray, the speed with which the complexion of the SPL table can change.
He said: “It has taken us only two weeks to widen that gap but they’ll be hoping to pull that back with their games in hand. We have to play them pretty soon and if we finish in the bottom six we’ll play each other again.
“So there is a long way to go. We need to keep everything on an even keel, look to Sunday’s match against St Mirren, that’s a big one, and then Inverness Caley.
“We’ve won these two games at home but now we have to go away and win.
“No disrespect to St Mirren, but we have to go there, show the pedigree we have as football players and a club.”
Part of Hibs’ twin-pronged approach, insisted Murray, must be to drag the likes of Aberdeen, Motherwell and St Johnstone towards them as the Easter Road side try to pull themselves in the direction of a top six finish.
While conceding he and his team-mates may, with eight matches left before the split, have more than a little difficulty in realising that particular objective, Murray added: “I’m not saying we are pushing towards the top six, we might have left that a wee bit too late, but we have to try to catch the teams ahead of us.
“Dundee United are sitting sixth with three or four games in hand but we have to keep battling away and see where we are come the split. If we can sneak in, we would be delighted.”