Darren McGregor insists there is no chance of Hibs taking a top-four finish for granted as rampant Kilmarnock threaten to put a spanner in the works.
The fourth-place Easter Road side – three points behind both Aberdeen and Rangers – are widely deemed to be in a three-way battle for second place in the Premiership. However, fifth-place Killie are now lurking just four points behind Hibs after a remarkable run in which they have won each of their last six league games and lost only one of their last 18.
Even if Neil Lennon’s team are unable to overtake any of the teams above them over the last five games of the season, fending off Steve Clarke’s on-form side to hold on to fourth place would be enough to secure a crack at the Europa League as long as Celtic defeat Motherwell in the Scottish Cup final.
McGregor explained that Hibs are well aware of the growing threat posed by Kilmarnock.
“People are speaking about ourselves, Rangers and Aberdeen but I think Kilmarnock deserve tremendous plaudits for the way they’ve been playing since Steve Clarke came in,” the defender told the Evening News. “It’s been astonishing the number of games they’ve won and the manner in which they’ve won them.
“The run they’ve been on is incredible so, of course, they’ll be fancying their chances. They’d have to be. Would you have put them in the mix at the start of the season? Probably not. But they’re there and that’s through hard work and having a really good manager in charge. We’re in a favourable position in relation to them just now but we need to keep it that way.”
Kilmarnock will feel they have a chance to make up further ground when they host off-form Aberdeen on Saturday, just after Hibs welcome Celtic for a televised encounter in which Brendan Rodgers’ team could secure the league title. Killie and Hibs then meet at Easter Road the following Saturday, when the Ayrshire side could have the chance to leapfrog their hosts depending on results this weekend.
“I’m sure Kilmarnock will be looking at this weekend as a wee opportunity to close the gap again but we just need to concentrate on what we’re doing,” said McGregor. “The Celtic game is massive for us, so we just need to block out the fact they could win the league or that Killie could close the gap on us and try and show everyone watching across Britain just how good a team we are. They come to Easter Road after the Celtic game but we can’t think too far ahead. Our aim at the moment is just to try and get three points against Celtic and then the next again week can take care of itself.”