Next seven games for Hibs - all winnable - will define season
Hibs are capable of winning their next seven matches - and with the prospect of points being at a premium in December, they need to fill their boots, writes Anthony Brown
The next seven league games - bookended by home and away fixtures against Ross County - will go a long way to deciding whether Hibs have any chance of salvaging this hitherto grim season.
A quarter of the way into their Premiership campaign, Paul Heckingbottom’s team languish in the relegation play-off spot, three points above bottom-of-the-table St Johnstone and eight points adrift of the top four. Their upcoming fixture list offers a clear chance to resuscitate a league campaign which has floundered on the back of an eight-game winless streak since the opening-day grind against St Mirren.
Over the next seven weeks, Hibs face seven consecutive Premiership fixtures which, regardless of their current predicament, can realistically be deemed winnable. Within this period, they have no league games against either of the Old Firm, no Edinburgh derby and no match against Aberdeen - only fixtures against clubs with notably less resources than themselves.
Between now and Wednesday, December 4, Hibs face home matches against Ross County, Livingston, Motherwell and Kilmarnock, and away games against St Johnstone, St Mirren and County. Even allowing for Hibs’ present league position and their exasperating penchant for throwing away a lead, Heckingbottom’s team - rightly or wrongly - would almost certainly be priced up by bookmakers as favourites for all seven of those matches. As far as Premiership fixture lists go, Hibs are unlikely to have had many more favourable runs than this one.
Despite this scenario, there are plenty supporters who have no faith in the current team and the current manager to make the most of it. Last weekend’s draw away to Hamilton offered a prime example of why the players cannot be trusted to make their perceived superiority count against less-illustrious opponents. After doing well to get their noses in front for the fourth league game in succession, they missed chances to kill the game and then allowed their hosts to equalise and deny them a much-needed three points.
With back-to-back home games over the next week against two sides who suffered defeats last weekend (County and Livingston), Hibs must feel this is their opportunity to finally get their campaign off the ground. Having taken the lead against Hearts, Celtic, Aberdeen and Hamilton Accies in their four most recent fixtures, there is no reason they shouldn’t be capable of doing so against any of their upcoming opponents.
County, who visit Easter Road on Saturday, are unlikely to be at their most buoyant after losing 6-0 at Celtic Park last weekend, so if Hibs are able to continue their recent trend of getting themselves in front, they are entitled to feel that, with a shade more ruthlessness than they have shown in recent matches, they can finally get that elusive first league win since early August under their belt.
If they can achieve this in one of their next couple of games, it would stand them in good stead morale-wise for the remainder of this favourable sequence of fixtures.
Since taking over in February, Heckingbottom’s reign has tended to be defined by spurts of form - both positive and negative. In his early months, he oversaw a ten-game unbeaten run in the Premiership. Since winning away to Hearts in early April, however, there has been just one win in 14 league games. The fact there have been three consecutive draws in the past three league games hints that things may be about to turn for Heckingbottom.
The favourable upcoming fixture list lends further credence to this notion. It would be unrealistic to expect Hibs, with no wins in eight league games, to suddenly win seven in a row, but if the manager is to have any chance of turning things round and banishing the negativity which has engulfed his reign, he has to be looking at collecting in the region of 15 points from the next seven games.
After County away in early December, the fixture list gets considerably more difficult, on paper at least, with Hibs due to finish 2019 with a formidable five-game run against Aberdeen (home), Celtic (away), Rangers (home), Hearts (away) and Livingston (away).
With points likely to be at a premium over the festive period, Hibs must find a way to fill their boosts in the coming weeks if they are to stave off the threat of a bleak winter.