I thought Hibs were arguably the better team on Friday and deserved a point, but the fact is we didn’t really cause Dundee United enough problems to have claimed we should have won the game.
A lot of that, of course, was down to United, who have improved massively since they came to Easter Road a few months ago. They now look like a team who have the potential to challenge us all the way and that’s something I didn’t think looked likely at the start of the season – or when we were seven points clear of them in September. We should have been capable of turning the screw on them back then and left them with a really tough task.
Although they’ve hauled themselves level with us, I’m not overly concerned about that at this stage because there is still loads of football to be played. However, my big worry is that we’ve had a few chances to pull away and open up a clear gap at the top already this season and, for one reason or another, we’ve not managed it. The closer teams are to us as the season progresses, the more pressure we’ll be under. With so much importance attached to us winning promotion this season, it’s going to be a mental examination for Hibs as much as a test of who has the best team.
Somewhere along the line we’re going to have to try and pull away because, considering what’s happened in the play-offs in the last two seasons, the last thing we need is to be having real high pressure games at the end of the season. We’ve got a good squad and should have been looking to make that count by opening up a proper gap before now. Getting ahead and staying ahead – the way Hearts and Rangers did in the previous two seasons – represents our best chance of winning this league because I don’t think any Hibs fan would be comfortable going into the last few games of the season with it all still in the balance.
It’s an added worry that we’re without John McGinn for a few months because he’s the standout player in the division and the one that gives us something extra in midfield. Although he hadn’t necessarily been at his best earlier in the season, it was clear that we missed his energy and running power on Friday. It’s going to be a test for the other midfielders to help us remain top of the table until he comes back.
I alluded to it a few weeks ago, and I think Friday highlighted that we’re crying out for quality attacking wide players. The wing-backs do a good job getting forward but they are defenders first and foremost and don’t necessarily have the guile and ability to cross that a natural winger would give us. I think it makes us a bit predictable, and I feel we need something a wee bit extra to give us an edge in tight games.
I’d like to see us bring in a couple of creative players next month who can get us something out of nothing. We’ve got a couple of useful target men and some good fox-in-the-box goal-scorers like Cummings and Boyle and some tidy midfielders, but I’d like to see someone who gives us a real spark, a bit like Darren Jackson did in my day. We just don’t seem to have that type of charismatic player who can give us something extra in the final third at the moment. Dundee United have probably it in Tony Andreu. He is the type of guy that can make the difference, although I recognise they are hard to come by.
I know there’s a clamour for Jason Cummings to get back in the team but, whether he’s ready to return or not, I’m not convinced we created enough – penalty aside – on Friday to have got the best out of him. He generally does his best work in the box but I don’t think we got enough good service to the strikers. Only the manager will know if Jason is better placed than the other strikers to start at the moment, but I think Martin Boyle has generally done well in the last few weeks, so I wouldn’t be in any rush to drop him.
As a team, we’re not too far away from being where we want to be, and I’m certainly not panicking at this stage. With the squad we’ve got, I still see us as favourites for the title. However, a little injection of spark and creativity in January could be the key to opening up a gap instead of becoming embroiled in a nervy race to the death with Dundee United and possibly even a team like Falkirk, who will fancy their chances of slipping under the radar again.