John McGinn admits Hibs must find a way of replicating their Edinburgh derby intensity in other less glamorous fixtures if they are to justify the perception that they are one of the strongest teams in Scotland.
The Easter Road side have been widely praised for their performances in high-profile matches with the likes of Rangers, Celtic and Aberdeen in recent seasons, while they have enjoyed particular success against Hearts, with Tuesday’s 1-0 victory, achieved with a high-quality display, making it eight games in a row unbeaten against their city rivals.
On the other side of the coin, however, Neil Lennon’s side have struggled to pick up results against the supposed lesser lights in the Premiership, with Hamilton Accies, St Johnstone, Dundee and Motherwell – tomorrow’s in-form opponents – all taking points from them over the past two-and-a-half months.
For all the plaudits that have come their way, Hibs have won only three of their last ten games and are seven points adrift of an Aberdeen side they have held their own against in recent meetings.
With their recent sequence of box-office fixtures against Celtic (twice), the Dons and Hearts giving way to a run of lower-key matches against Well, Kilmarnock, Dundee, St Johnstone and Partick Thistle over the next four weeks, McGinn is well aware of the need to find greater consistency if they are to start fulfilling their promise as a team.
“We seem to play with a bit extra intensity in the big games, and in particular the derbies, so it’s something we need to rectify,” said McGinn ahead of tomorrow’s trip to Fir Park.
“If we play against other teams in the league the way we do against Hearts, they won’t live with us. There’s something special about big midweek games at Easter Road, under the lights, that makes us have that little bit extra about us. I think that’s only natural because the atmosphere can be unbelievable in these games. We know what the derby means to people so we were delighted to get the win and also with the performance, but it’s up to us now to get that consistency and take it into the Motherwell game.
“We need to view Tuesday as a marker and try and carry that level of performance into other games that aren’t as massive as that one. It’s frustrating because we know we’re capable of performing like that, but it’s credit to the likes of Aberdeen that they can do it on a more consistent basis. Everyone’s aware of how good a team we can be, but it’s up to us now to show we can do it on a regular basis and not just be a team that shows up every now and again.”
McGinn is hopeful that the fact Hibs, who are currently fifth, gained ground on Europa League rivals Aberdeen, Rangers, St Johnstone and Hearts can spark a surge up the Premiership. A win tomorrow could take them up to joint third.
“When Rangers drew against Kilmarnock, that was another wee incentive for us and we’re also a bit closer to Aberdeen now,” he said.
“We aim to finish as high as we can in the top six, so it’s always pleasing if teams around us are dropping points. But we’ve just got to focus on getting a bit of consistency and getting points on the board.”
Although tomorrow’s match lacks the lustre of Hibs’ recent matches, McGinn is adamant it will be no easier. Motherwell are third in the Premiership, having won eight of their last ten games. In one of the only games they didn’t win in that run, Stephen Robinson’s team roared back from 2-0 down to claim a point at Easter Road last month.
“Motherwell away is probably one of the toughest tests we’ll face this season – they’re flying,” said McGinn.
“They’ve got a phenomenal record this season, especially when you consider they’ve not got the same resources as a lot of other teams. It’s a massive test for us.
“Just because we’ve won the derby doesn’t mean we can just show up there and expect to win. We’ll need to work as hard as we did on Tuesday.
“We saw in the last game against Motherwell at Easter Road how good a team they are. They deserved their point that day.
“The way it happened wasn’t good for us because we should have seen it out but, over the piece, it was a very even game.”
In addition to chasing down the teams above them, McGinn is eager to ensure Hibs can stay above Hearts after leapfrogging them with Tuesday’s derby victory. “In the first half, I think we were just out the blocks a bit too quick for Hearts,” said the Scotland midfielder. “But in the second half, they came out and gave it a right good go and had a few half chances.
“They’ve had a lot of injuries and they’ll admit they’ve not hit the heights they feel they can, but they’re not far away from us points-wise. They’ll feel they’ve got a lot more in their locker and they’ve also got a lot of home games to come, so we’re wary of the fact they’re not far behind us.”
A feature of Hibs’ play on Tuesday – and in other matches this season – was the sight of McGinn pinging diagonal passes into the path of flying wingers Martin Boyle and Brandon Barker. The midfielder is buoyed by the progress on this aspect of his game.
“Brandon’s got so much ability and he’s a big threat, and then we’ve got Boyley on the other side, so when I get the opportunity, I won’t refuse it because it’s a big asset for us,” said McGinn.
“If the pitch is condensed on one side, I feel I can play a diagonal without much back-lift now. I probably wasn’t as accurate with them before, but I’ve been working on them in training and I feel I’m doing them more consistently now. Some teams have clocked on to it and stop it, but others don’t.
“It’s a great trait to have when you’ve got boys like Brandon and Boyley on the wing because it stretches teams. I wouldn’t like to be a full-back playing against us, so hopefully we can keep causing teams trouble in the wide areas.”