Hibs ‘haven’t given up on finishing third’ says Paul Heckingbottom
Hibs head coach Paul Heckingbottom has refused to rule out the possibility of his side finishing third, ahead of the start of the post-split fixtures this weekend.
The Easter Road side have embarked on an eight-game unbeaten run in the league since the former Leeds boss was appointed in mid-February, lifting them to fifth in the table and within six points of third-place Kilmarnock.
The Capital club kick off their final five fixtures with a home match in Sunday against Celtic - the only team to have beaten Hibs during Heckingbottom’s tenure - but the Yorkshireman reckons the post-split format can have a big impact on where a team finishes in the league.
“It looks a long, long way and of course it is,” Heckingbottom said of the gap between fifth and third as he spoke to Sky Sports at the club’s East Mains training centre.
“We’re not kidding ourselves but I think with the format, it is different because you’re playing all the top teams. It’s quite easy for a team not to pick up points, or not pick up any points.
“If you get results that people don’t expect you to get - i.e. on Sunday - you can gain a head start on everybody else.”
Finishing third would guarantee Hibs a place in Europe, but even equalling last season’s fourth-placed finish could be enough, if Celtic defeat Hearts in next month’s William Hill Scottish Cup final.
Wherever his side end up in the table, however, Heckingbottom believes securing a top six finish will give him vital information ahead of next term, and insists finishing in the upper echelons of the Ladbrokes Premiership was the coaching staff’s aim when they arrived.
“We had a lot of work to do to catch up [but] that was sort of our goal when we came in,” Heckingbottom said.
“You’ve got another derby, you’ve got to play all the top teams, so you’re going to be playing in front of full houses.
“Teams are playing for things, whether it’s chasing Europe or to win the title.
“That was the reason, from a purely selfish point of view, to see how we manage and cope in these big games. Because we want to be up there challenging next season.
“We want to be up there pushing these boys.”