Niklas Gunnarsson loving Hibs’ challenge on three fronts

Niklas Gunnarsson is enjoying his football after swapping the Swedish game for the Ladbrokes Championship. Pic: Greg Macvean
Niklas Gunnarsson is enjoying his football after swapping the Swedish game for the Ladbrokes Championship. Pic: Greg Macvean
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Niklas Gunnarsson says life at Easter Road is exactly as promised when the first move was made to tempt him to make the switch from Scandinavian football to Scotland.

On loan to Swedish side Elfsborg from Norwegian club Valerenga, the defender was a surprise January signing, agreeing a deal with Alan Stubbs’ Hibs until the end of the season.

Today, he revealed a big attraction was the fact the Capital outfit were battling it out on three different fronts and now, some six weeks later, that remains very much the case.

Admitting he’s never faced such an intense run of games as he’s presently experiencing – Stubbs’ players switching between the League Cup, the Championship and Scottish Cup – Gunnarsson believes there is nothing wrong in toying with the idea he and his new team-mates could land an unlikely treble.

The 25-year-old said: “Every football player’s dream is about having success all the time. But behind every successful club, there is a lot of hard work. That’s the dream but, for the moment, we must focus on Livingston tomorrow.

“It’s a bit like last week when all everyone wanted to talk about was the League Cup semi-final and the derby in the Scottish Cup, forgetting we had an important match against Morton in between.

“Now everyone is looking forward to the match with Hearts on Tuesday but we want to get promoted this season. A lot will happen but we have to be very tough all the time, very focused.

“If we are thinking about something else when we are playing another opponent, then we will lose the game.”

With tomorrow’s match not kicking off until 5.15pm, Stubbs’ side could find themselves trailing Championship leaders Rangers – provided, of course, the Ibrox club win away to basement club Alloa – by 
11 points.

Accepting such a scenario brings a pressure all of its own, Gunnarsson said: “We have to do our part and win all of our games but they also have to drop some points. We believe that can happen, but we also belive we can win every game we play.

“Hopefully, that happens and we can have a fantastic end to the season. When Hibs first contacted my agent they said they were playing in the semi-final of one cup, were in the fourth round of another and were fighting with Rangers and Falkirk to get promoted and that was a big attraction for me.

“There’s a lot of big games to be played but this is a club which should be in the Premiership.”

Gunnarsson’s debut was that Scottish Cup fourth-round tie away to Raith Rovers, victory that day setting up an unexpected Edinburgh derby in which he replaced injured skipper David Gray shortly after half-time with Hibs trailing their Capital rivals by two goals.

Agreeing it was a tricky scenario for him, Gunnarsson said: “I know Paul Hanlon got our equaliser but, when you are a defender, you are not the one expected to score goals. But, when I came on we had the ball a lot, it looked as if Hearts were trying to seal the victory but we just hammered them all the way.

“We had the ball all the time and I felt we would score.”

Hanlon hooked the ball home after Jason Cummings’ 19th goal of the season had thrown Hibs a lifeline but, for one heart-stopping moment, it looked as if Gunnarsson had chucked it away as his clearance left Mark Oxley flat-footed only for the ball to come off his own bar.

“I don’t know how I would have felt had that gone in with us having come back from two goals down.” admitted Gunnarsson. But I had to get my toe on the ball. I remember the striker had come past Daz [Darren McGregor] and it took a bit of a bounce. It maybe looked a bit close, but it hit the top of the crossbar. As a defender, you are always going to be involved in goals. It happens, there’s not much you can do about it. But that’s how I make my living and, if I was to think about all the mistakes I have made in the past, I would be in a mental hospital.”

Gunnarsson has yet to play at Easter Road as Stubbs’ players have contended with a run of away matches but, he insisted, he’s enjoyed visiting places he’d never heard of before.

He said: “Every time we play, it is a new experience for me. Of course, it is a lot easier to play at home with your own supporters all around you but, at Raith, there were a lot of our supporters there. It was the same at Morton and in the two games at Tynecastle. I’m sure it will be the same tomorrow night while I am told Livingston is a nice stadium.

“I know everyone wants to talk about another derby but, while we are looking forward to that game, it’s important we take it one step at a time, focus on the next match and not on the future.

“I’ve never had such an intense run of matches. Every game is important and is almost like a cup final in its own way. But win tomorrow and then we can talk of the derby.”