Paul Heckingbottom says Hibs must get off to a flying start as they hit the home straight in their chase for a place in next season’s Europa League.
The Capital side face champions elect Celtic at Easter Road tomorrow when, claimed Heckingbottom, “they’re never going to be more motivated”, also well aware that the Glasgow side could wrap up an eighth successive title should their Old Firm rivals Rangers fail to beat Hearts at Tynecastle today.
Hibs trail Kilmarnock and Aberdeen by six points in the race for a place in Europe but even although there are only five matches left, head coach Heckingbottom insisted that with the top teams facing each other over the coming weeks “anything could happen”.
The former Barnsley and Leeds United boss revealed he is a fan of the “split” format which he feels is needed in a small league such as the Premiership, giving other clubs something to play for when there is such a dominant force as Celtic.
He said: “It’s the top teams and this is what’s new to me, different scenarios and how much ground we want to make up, you’ve got to have so much go in your favour.
“However, it’s possible because everyone’s playing Rangers and Celtic and every other team that’s finished round and about is capable of beating each other.
“From that point of view anything can happen. It’s harder to get three points but if you can, you are putting others under pressure. The interesting bit of it is we’re playing Celtic, arguably, at a time when they’re never going to be more motivated.
“They’re trying to get over the finish line. But if you get that win, then it’s someone else who’s got to face them, They could easily go and win any game but, likewise, if they’ve wrapped it up early you might want to play them later on.
“So you need all those things to go in your favour. We’ve got three homes games which is in our favour, so it’s not a level playing field but you’ve got to accept it and get on with it.
“If we get three points against Celtic, we’re in front of everyone else because they’re the best team in the land at the minute and they’ll find it hard to do what we’ve done.”
Although Celtic defeated Hibs 2-0 in the Scottish Cup only a few weeks ago as former boss Neil Lennon returned to Easter Road for the first time since his sudden departure, Heckingbottom insisted his side had executed their game plan, the Hoops win being down to the quality they have in their squad.
“We restricted them to few efforts,” he said of the only defeat he’s suffered as Hibs head coach. “Ofir [goalkeeper Marciano] might not have had a save to make bar two very good goals.
“But flip that and we didn’t work their goalkeeper. Both teams played well but to win a game you have to hurt them so I’d take the same defensive performance with a better attacking one.
It’s difficult if they have real good players who are at the pinnacle of the competition you are playing in. It’s tough, but it doesn’t mean they can’t be beaten because I feel we have good players and they have shown over the last couple of months they can compete against the best.”