Hibs verdict: Summer rebuild a nice idea but current team needs to put in complete performance at Hampden

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In the end, it came down to a penalty call at Pittodrie. Had that spot-kick for Ross County not been awarded, or Aberdeen had equalised, the combination of results would have seen Hibs sneak into the top six.

Equally you could look at Elias Melkersen’s late chance against Dundee United last weekend, or any of the other opportunities the side has passed up since the start of the season.

As both captain Paul Hanlon and manager Shaun Maloney suggested in the aftermath of the derby defeat by Hearts, a top-six berth should have been tied up well in advance of the trip to Tynecastle.

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"For a club this size and with the players we’ve got, we should be in the top six,” the skipper admits. “It should have been secured before the derby but it came down to this game and we produced a second-half performance that was nowhere near good enough.”

Grim faces on the Hibs bench at TynecastleGrim faces on the Hibs bench at Tynecastle
Grim faces on the Hibs bench at Tynecastle

But clubs cannot rely on events elsewhere. It could be argued that Hibs, on balance, haven’t been consistently good enough for the top six this season.

In the Gorgie sun we saw the best and the worst of Hibs under Maloney. A goal after five minutes and relentless hassling and pressing by Hibs in the first 30 minutes gave hope to the 3,000 away fans in the Roseburn Stand.

Maloney afterwards questioned the mentality and footballing ability of his side after a meek second-half performance in which they failed to lay a glove on Hearts. Hibs could have played out of their skins and still lost 3-1. The fact they didn’t is the biggest concern.

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The Easter Road boss doesn’t often go after his players but he did in the depths of the Tynecastle main stand on Saturday afternoon. He bemoaned the traits he has been trying to eradicate since his arrival that crept back into the performance in EH11.

Maloney also referenced the young age of the team and suggested that he could make changes for next weekend’s Scottish Cup semi-final.

Despite Hanlon’s long association with the club, and his status as club captain, boyhood supporter, and scorer of a late equaliser at the home of Hibs’ rivals en route to lifting the Scottish Cup after 114 long years in 20126, the Easter Road skipper isn’t often one for extremes when it comes to emotions.

Yet his anger after Saturday’s defeat was palpable.

"I don’t think it’s about picking the players up after that. I want them to really feel the disappointment so we can avoid feeling it again,” he says quietly.

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The Easter Road squad will be back in at training today after having Sunday to mull over Saturday’s unpleasantness. One suspects the video analysis sessions will be grim viewing for some.

With the world-weary sigh of a player who has been here far, far too often before, Hanlon adds: "We’ll feel sore for a few days but then it will be a case of picking back up and refocusing for a massive game.”

And Saturday’s game is massive for Hibs, for several reasons. Pride, obviously: neither side wants to lose to their rivals in any game, never mind at the national stadium in the last four of a cup, but there is also the financial boost of reaching the final.

Finishing in the bottom six and missing out on Europe – unless they win the Scottish Cup – will mean less money for next season.

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There’s also the elephant in the room, the one with ‘season tickets’ scrawled in large green and white letters on its side. The manner of Saturday’s defeat could have a worrying effect on those considering committing to the club for the upcoming campaign.

Reversing the result at Hampden could at least help overturn that but there must be a fear that at least some damage has already been done to an increasingly apathetic fanbase.

Hibs have been working hard on fostering good relations with the supporters and helping transform the club on and off the park but uninspiring results and unacceptable performances will have taken their toll on some followers.

It is hard to properly judge Maloney on 15 league games with half a team out injured for much of that time. There have been fleeting signs of positivity, although not enough.

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Maloney will be given time to bring in his own players who are capable of playing the style of football he wants. The club hierarchy identified him as the perfect fit for a forward-thinking club with an eye to finishing regularly in the top three or four, playing European football, and reaching the latter stages of both domestic cup competitions.

Reading between the lines of his comments in recent weeks, there could be a significant turnover in players during the summer. It could be ruthless. Perhaps that is what the team needs.

He knows what type of players he wants to sign and in what positions. He respects the traditions and history of the club but there will be little room for sentiment when it comes to improving the product on the pitch.

For now, though, he has to work with the players he has available. He has to pick them up ahead of next weekend and coax the best out of every single player who will set foot on the pitch at the national stadium. He must inspire them to put together a complete performance; three lots of the first half-hour at Tynecastle, if you like.

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The frustrating aspect was that, for an all-too-brief period on Saturday, we saw what Hibs could be like under Maloney. Hearts didn’t like it one bit and judging by the noise from the home stands, neither did their fans. If Hibs can do it for 30 minutes, why not the full 90?

Hanlon talked about Hibs not yet putting in a complete performance under Maloney.

This Saturday at Hampden would be an ideal time to change that.

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