Stevie Mallan has urged Hibs to crank up the pressure on the three teams directly above them in the battle for Europa League places by defeating Kilmarnock on Wednesday.
With results over the weekend all but securing their top-six place, Paul Heckingbottom’s on-form side are now turning their attention towards overhauling a group of teams who looked to have left them in their slipstream when they languished in eighth place just a couple of months ago.
Sixth-place Hibs are currently within just two points behind Hearts, four off Aberdeen and six off Kilmarnock. They face two of those teams this week, with Wednesday’s visit from the Ayrshire side followed by an Edinburgh derby at Tynecastle on Saturday.
There is a clear opportunity for Hibs – who have taken 16 points from six matches under Heckingbottom – to assert themselves in the race for a top-four place if they can beat Killie.
“When the new manager came in, our aim was to make top six and I think a lot of people wrote us off because of the way we were playing,” said midfielder Mallan. “Maybe rightly so, but we are unbeaten in the league since the gaffer came in. That was exactly what what we needed and we are now chasing down the teams above us. We’ve come out of nowhere and people will be looking at us now and see that we’re coming.
“In every meeting we’ve had, we haven’t really spoken about the teams above us – we have always just looked at the next game. But I think we are at a point now where we can look around us and see where we are in the league. Now that we look like we’ve made the top six, we can start looking at the next place, then the next place.
“The next two games are both six-pointers against two of the teams just above us. It just makes it that bit more important that we go out and win. If we go and beat Kilmarnock, we’re potentially within touching distance of them, Hearts and Aberdeen. We are in form and we know we can beat anyone with the way we’ve been playing. We couldn’t be in a better place right now so hopefully we can go and get the win on Wednesday.”
Mallan played a key role as Hibs won their fifth league game in six matches under Heckingbottom when he set a goal up for Paul Hanlon and then scored what proved to be the winner in Friday’s 2-1 victory away to Livingston. The former St Mirren and Barnsley midfielder has now netted 13 times in his first season at Easter Road and is still hoping for more.
“I was just delighted to score again – although I think a few people will be surprised it was from inside the box,” said Mallan, who is generally renowned for his impressive long-range strikes. “The fact it turned out to be the winner just makes it that bit more important. I enjoyed the moment.It was just a relief to be back on the scoresheet and it adds another one to my tally. I always want to keep scoring and assisting goals.
“I feel like, with the chances I’ve had through the season, I could have more goals. But I can’t grumble too much about my stats. My first season at Hibs has exceeded my expectations and there is still plenty of time left in the season to improve further. I’ve still got seven games to play so hopefully there’s more goals to come.
“I started the campaign really well, maybe with the buzz of being at a new team. I’ve been kicking myself at points when my performances took a little dip, but both managers I have worked under this season have been on my case and demanding me to up my game. It’s down to me – if I keep my standards high then it will help the team.”