Dominique Malonga returns to Dumbarton tonight intent on rediscovering his mojo.
The last time the Hibs striker visited the Sons, four-and-a-half months ago, he banged in a magnificent hat-trick in the midst of a run in which he scored 11 goals in 16 appearances prior to heading off to the Africa Cup of Nations with Congo in January.
Since returning from international duty in February, Malonga has toiled to hit the heights. The 26-year-old has scored only twice in his last seven games – a double at home to tonight’s opponents – and hasn’t scored in his last five games. He doesn’t judge himself solely on goals scored, but accepts that his recent performance levels haven’t been as high as he would like.
“I didn’t play for one month in Africa [with Congo] and that affected my sharpness a little bit,” Malonga said in an interview with the Evening News. “That is not an excuse, though. Against Raith Rovers [a week past Saturday] I felt I did well in the first half, but I do need to do more to get back to a high level because my team-mates need me. I hope against Dumbarton I will be back with a high level of performance.
“It’s not a concern that I have only scored two since I came back. My concern when I go on the pitch is to help my team win, it’s not just about scoring goals. It’s about keeping the ball, creating good movements and giving options for my team-mates. I have a lot of abilities – I’m not just a striker who scores goals. But I can definitely do more than I have done recently.”
Malonga views himself as a leader of the Hibs team and knows he must start producing in order to help revive their hopes of promotion and Scottish Cup glory after a run of three consecutive defeats. However, he insists his team-mates must also rediscover the zest which allowed them to soar from the lower echelons of the Championship in September to favourites for second place as recently as last month. “I hope to come back to my best quickly,” he said. “But everybody needs to do more, not just me. I hope against Dumbarton we are back to high intensity, both from myself and from the team.
“Against Queen of the South on Saturday, we looked a little bit slow when we passed the ball and also when we didn’t have the ball. We didn’t look aggressive and that gives confidence to the opponent. When you play with high intensity everyone has a better chance to play well.
“I don’t know why we have lost our form. Rangers played well against us and scored in a good moment for them and then won the game. Against Raith Rovers, we played a good first half but didn’t take our chances and gave confidence to them. On Saturday, we didn’t play well in the first half and they scored after one minute of the second half. In moments like these we need to react more like a team, including me. I am a leader in the team, but everybody has to do more if we want to get to the Scottish Cup final and do well in the play-offs.
“We have lost three in a row but I believe we have a good chance to play a good game against Dumbarton. It’s a very big game for us, for everybody to get their confidence back with a win. It’s a big moment for us and we have to respond in a good way. Everybody must show up now.”
Malonga quickly established himself as a cult hero among supporters following an excellent start to his Hibs career, although exasperation towards the forward was audible from sections of the Easter Road crowd as Alan Stubbs’ side slipped to a third successive defeat against Queen of the South on Saturday. Malonga is eager to remind the fans why they fell in love with him in the first place. “I have no problems with the fans,” he said. “If I score the fans will enjoy it and if I don’t and I don’t play well, they will be unhappy – this is normal.
“They saw the good football from myself and my team before and now it’s not happening, so it’s natural they won’t be happy. I am just focused on getting back to a high level for my team. I have motivation and my only goal is to win the play-offs and the Scottish Cup.”
Malonga views a trip to Dumbarton, where his three goals helped secure a 6-3 win in November, as an ideal opportunity for he and Hibs to get back on track. “Dumbarton is my lucky team – I have scored five against them,” he said. “It was a good game for me when I scored a hat-trick because I had just come back from Africa for the first time. I scored my best goal for Hibs that day [a 30-yard strike into the top corner] so hopefully I can get back to scoring there. This will be a different game, though. The most important thing is the result.”
Malonga could be found playing Connect Four with team-mates as he prepared for the trip to Dumbarton. Camaraderie levels remain high at’ East Mains base and the forward is confident they can snap out of their slump quickly enough to salvage their hopes of glory. “Everybody is okay here,” he said. “We talk with the coach and everybody is okay. I think against Dumbarton things will be okay. We have been training good and I think we can score goals and win the game. I’m always positive and I believe things will start going our way again.
“When you lose, it can be a good experience because you can learn from it. We have lost three games in a row but things like this can be happen. It reminds you what happens if everyone is not focused.”