'Gradually, then suddenly' - Hibs face last desperate chance to avoid season-ending calamity

Monty's men slip out of top six ... and face struggle for relevance
Maolida celebrates his goal at Ibrox - but it wasn't enough to avoid a damaging defeat.Maolida celebrates his goal at Ibrox - but it wasn't enough to avoid a damaging defeat.
Maolida celebrates his goal at Ibrox - but it wasn't enough to avoid a damaging defeat.

For so long a shadow hanging over this season of turmoil, upheaval and renewal, the risk of being cast into the wilderness of the Scottish Premiership’s also-rans now seems an all too tangible threat to Hibs. Like Hemingway’s great “gradually, then suddenly” quote about going bankrupt, Nick Montgomery’s men are quickly running out of credit in their attempt to reach the top six.

Yes, they still have a slugger’s chance. Dundee, who face Motherwell and Rangers (their game in hand) at home followed by Aberdeen away, might only pick up a couple of points from that pre-split run. Which means two wins for Hibs – at home to St Johnstone and away to Motherwell – would get the job done.

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But there’s a doggedness and durability about the Dark Blues that has been missing from their nearest rivals for that place in the top half of the table. A reliability that Hibs have discovered late in the campaign. Possibly too late?

A first defeat in seven league games, a narrow loss to the title favourites on their own patch, is hardly reason for supporters to declare the season a bust, of course. But the fact that Hibs have been left needing snookers just to achieve a degree of respectability, never mind challenge for a place in European football, speaks to underlying structural problems going far beyond anything Montgomery has done since replacing Lee Johnson back in September.

As they head into two games with the potential to set the tone for a summer of massive recruitment and revolution, then, what are the key talking points to take away not just from yesterday’s 3-1 loss at Ibrox, but the predicament in which Hibs now find themselves?

Monty recognises the problems

Basics. Just basic football stuff. Get on the right side of your man, between the attacker and the goal, and do something – anything – to affect their ability to get a shot away. Track runs, communicate well, block the efforts that need blocked.

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All were identified as areas of concern by Montgomery in the aftermath of a game that had, in fairness, seen Hibs do a few things extremely well. But you can’t keep conceding soft goals and expect to contend at the business end of the table.

The attack needs to be sharper, too

Not a team who thrive in chaos, Hibs enjoyed their best moments during a second-half spell when they were able to work switches of play to Chris Cadden – in a lot of well-engineered space – on the right wing. And they’d looked intermittently threatening on the break, in the first half. Up to a point.

As Montgomery put it: “We play out from the back, we’re brave in doing that when we come to a place like this. But once you break that press and arrive in the final third that’s when you need a bit of composure.

“Even later in the game we had one or two opportunities, where you need to take an extra touch in the box. Everybody wants to score in big games and in big atmospheres. We have a playing style that’s going to get us into the final third, but you have to make it count when you get there. If you don’t, they’ll punish you and we got punished today with some quality strikes.”

The F-word is still in vogue at Ibrox

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If anyone thought Hibs were going overboard in citing sectarianism as a reason for cutting the away allocations of certain teams visiting Easter Road, a couple of hours spent in the main stand at Ibrox yesterday would have allayed any concerns. Anybody who did anything to upset the home crowd was instantly decried as a Fenian this or a Fenian that. Top bantz.

It’s all or nothing time

There’s no point in pretending. Either Hibs win their final two pre-split fixtures - or they don’t deserve to make the top six.

A simple eyeball test may tell you that they’re better than a mid-table team. Logic dictates that, as a club, any failure to be involved in the race for Europe is a failing. Yet their season could be over, effectively, in a little under a fortnight. Interesting times, right?