Ian Murray believes Hibs can capitalise on the turbulence at other clubs and secure their first top-three finish in the Scottish Premiership for 13 years.
The newly-promoted Easter Road side have spent much of the past month in third place and remain in the thick of the battle for Europa League places alongside Aberdeen, Rangers and Motherwell.
With the Ibrox outfit and city rivals Hearts having struggled amid managerial changes and other disruptions in the early months of the season, Murray, who captained Tony Mowbray’s burgeoning young Hibs team to third place in the 2004/05 season, senses an opportunity for Neil Lennon’s side this term.
“I wasn’t so sure at the start of the season but Hibs are definitely top-three contenders now,” Murray told the Evening News. “For a team just coming up to go straight into the top three would be a great achievement but Hibs have to be considered realistic challengers. This is as good a chance as they’ll get because Rangers are still without a manager and have been dropping a lot of points. People keep expecting them to get better, but they don’t seem to be improving.
“Hearts have probably declined more quickly than any team over the past year and obviously they’ve been having trouble with their stand, and their fixtures have been all over the place. They should be two of the main challengers for a top-three place but they’re not anywhere near the level that they should be. Hibs have generally been pretty settled and they’ve done well, although even then they’ll feel they should probably have a few more points than they do. It’s an ideal opportunity for them if they can get a wee run together.”
Murray insists second place is not out of the question for Hibs, although Aberdeen, who have finished runners-up for the past three years, remain favourites for this position once more, despite last night’s defeat at Ibrox. “It’s not just third place Hibs should be thinking about – Aberdeen are consistent but they’re definitely catchable for a team like Hibs,” said Murray. “Hibs have shown in recent seasons they can compete against them in matches but it’s all about getting the consistency over the course of a season. For instance, Hibs have drawn at Hamilton and lost 3-1 at home to Hamilton already this season. Results like that don’t tend to happen to Aberdeen quite as often.”
Murray, currently assistant manager at Norwegian club Asker FC, admits a return to the top three is overdue for his boyhood club. “Hibs, Aberdeen, Hearts and Dundee United were traditionally the teams that you’d expect to be going for a top-three place in the past, so this is too long for Hibs to go without being in the top three. Teams like Motherwell and St Johnstone have done really well in recent years and that’s made it harder for the more established teams, but there’s no doubt that Hibs should be trying to nail a top-three position.”