Darren McGregor believes Hibs are heading into their top-of-the-table showdown with Dundee United in excellent fettle.
Hibs have won four of their past five games, with their most recent outing bringing a 4-0 win at home to Queen of the South which allowed them to open up a three-point lead over the Tayside outfit, who were held to a goalless draw away to Morton.
Although Hibs have injury problems to contend with – most notably involving John McGinn, Fraser Fyvie and James Keatings – McGregor feels they are going to Tayside in the best possible mindset.
The defender is particularly heartened by his team’s return to the scoring trail over the last month or so, with 13 goals in their last five matches. “We are confident going into the game,” he said. “The draw with Falkirk [in mid-November] was a tough one to take, but we have bounced back and against Queen of the South I thought we were exceptional from start to finish.
“We are on a good run of form and have given ourselves a good solid base. We have players who will score. Brian Graham came in and did so against Queens, Grant Holt was on the bench as was Jason Cummings and Martin Boyle has turned into a forward. We are getting goals from all over which is great and it’s giving the manager decisions.”
After spending the past two seasons chasing Hearts and then Rangers, Hibs, in their third attempt at winning promotion, now find themselves cast as title favourites and league leaders. With the chance to open up a six-point advantage at the summit on Friday, McGregor admits his team must continue showing that they possess the mental strength to handle the expectation levels surrounding them this season.
He said: “There’s always pressure but, as the gaffer says, you would rather be at the top than mid-table or bottom so we have to handle that. We need to get out of this league and everyone knows the repercussions of not doing that so we have to handle the pressure.
“We are at a big club, a massive club, so the pressure is on us to win. We are aware of that and we need to step up to the mark every week. Teams will come to Easter Road and make it difficult because they are playing against the supposed best team in the league, but we have to maintain our standards. If we drop them, we’ll be vilified so it is up to us.”
McGregor, who earlier this month told the Evening News of his desire to finish his career at Hibs, admits the incentive of getting new contracts tied up can help his team on their way to the title.
The Easter Road club have 13 first-team players out of contract in the summer, of which McGregor is one.
Head coach Neil Lennon has already revealed that it is difficult to open contract negotiations with players whose deals expire at the end of the season until it is known whether next term will be spent in the Premiership or in the second tier of Scottish football.
McGregor is comfortable with this situation, but knows he and his team-mates can help make things become clearer by beginning to widen the gap between themselves and the chasing pack.
The 31-year-old said: “The club are in a position whereby they can’t be handing out two, three, four-year deals to anyone because of the current climate. I’m aware of that although, at my age, I don’t think I’d get a four-year contract. I’d be happy with a couple.
“But I think we are all aware of the predicament we are in and that’s more of an incentive for players to step up to the mark and really push for that points gap so that when it comes towards the end of the season, we are in a position where we can bargain, ‘is there something there?’
“For me, it’s a bit rich sitting here just now saying I want this or that when the season is only a quarter done.”