Pat McGinlay believes Hibs are now displaying the same unshakeable confidence which helped Alex McLeish’s side win promotion 16 years ago.
Back then the Easter Road side romped to the old First Division title, finishing up 23 points clear of second-placed Falkirk. But, while he readily admits he doesn’t see Alan Stubbs’ players running away with it, the former midfielder firmly believes they have what it takes to win the Championship.
The success McGinlay and his team-mates enjoyed was built on an astonishing run of 20 games unbeaten in all competitions including one streak of nine straight league wins – an achievement Stubbs’ players are inching towards emulating with the victory over Alloa last weekend making them undefeated in 15 matches and boasting eight Championship triumphs in succession.
Not only that, but they have hauled themselves level with Rangers after starting the month at risk of falling 11 points behind the Ibrox club, a deficit which, many insisted, would have more or less ended the title race there and then.
“They’ve done brilliantly,” insisted McGinlay, “and I am delighted for them. To me it’s all about confidence. They had a wee shaky start to the season but in the games I have seen they are looking a lot better. Going 15 games unbeaten will have done wonders for their self-belief and, as any player knows, it’s all about confidence.
“When you have it you’re willing to try anything, taking your man on, trying a killer pass or getting a shot away on goal. When it’s missing you are scared to get on the ball or to make a pass.
“Now Hibs look a threat every time they go forward while at the back they are very strong which gives them that platform.
“The midfield Hibs have takes the pressure off the guys at the back, the way they are always looking to get forward to support the frontmen while they also work really hard to get the ball back as quickly as possible when the lose it.
“It’s testament to Alan Stubbs and his players that having run the risk of falling 11 points behind Rangers – giving them the chance to ‘do a Hearts’ – they are now level on points with them. Beating Rangers at the start of the month was a big result, it perhaps put that little bit of doubt into their minds following the start to the season they’d enjoyed and dropping points to Livingston can only have added some more worries.”
While McLeish’s side ultimately ran away with the league, McGinlay remembers that they, too, had to endure a less than convincing start, losing their second match at home to Stranraer after having a last-minute Barry Lavety strike to earn them a win on the opening day against Morton at Cappielow.
Back-to-back defeats were to follow before they embarked on that unbeaten run which ran from mid-September to the beginning of February when, in a major shock, they were knocked out of the Scottish Cup by Stirling Albion.
McGinlay, though, credits the arrival of Mixu Paatelainen as the catalyst, the big Finn’s debut resulting in a defeat by St Mirren at Love Street, before he went on to score 14 goals with Stevie Crawford netting a further 15 while midfielders McGinlay and Stuart Lovell grabbed a dozen each.
He said: “Mixu was a big presence in the dressing-room but was great for the team. He’d hold the ball up or flick it on and when he did that he expected you to be making that run for him. If you didn’t he wasn’t slow to let you know. I scored a lot of goals that season thanks to him.
“But then, in came Russell Latapy. If you were to ask me who was my favourite player wee Russell would be right up there.”
Having been relegated, McGinlay revealed he and his team-mates were always confident of bouncing straight back up, pointing out they didn’t have to contend with Hearts and Rangers in the same league but, he insisted, like today, results could never be taken for granted, recalling a couple of close-run games against the likes of Stranraer and Airdrie.
He said: “We had to dig out results just as Hibs have done on a couple of occasions this season, the 1-0 win over Alloa very much a case in point. Teams will make it hard, they’ll try to frustrate you by sitting in, making it difficult and try to hit on the break so then showing the patience to win them, even by a single goal, is just as important as those games you win by two or three.
“Hibs have a young squad which has gelled together and in Jason Cummings they’ve got a real goalscorer. To be top striker in the Championship last season and to follow that by 14 more already shows he really knows the way to goal.”
McGinlay added: “The remaining games against Rangers will take care of themselves but, no disrespect intended, you have to make sure you are winning the other games, do that and you keep the pressure right on.
“When you are winning you never think ‘all good things come to an end’, you just go out there every week believing you are going to win again. To be honest, I don’t see any reason why Hibs can’t win the title. It’s going to take a huge effort but hopefully they can do it and take the club back to where it belongs.”