Why Hibs securing European football next season was considered no cause for celebration
There has been a lot of attention given to Hibs’ quest to finish third and the fact that the club have been unable to reach such heights since 2004/05.
But even top four finishes are far from de rigeur and against that backdrop, many might have expected greater fanfare and celebrations when victory over Livingston on Wednesday night ensured that the Easter Road outfit, who have not dropped out of the top-ranked quartet all season, would definitely not do so this term.
But, shy of the targets they have set themselves, stopping to enjoy that achievement would have been a distraction from the primary objectives, which have not been diluted at any stage this season. Not when form slipped over the winter months, not when the semi final defeats to Hearts, in the delayed denouement of last season’s Scottish Cup, and then St Johnstone in the League Cup saw outsiders cast aspersions, and certainly not now, as they edge tantalisingly close to them with a reinvigorated sense of purpose and desire.
As things stand, the difference between third and fourth is negligible in terms of European opportunities, as both places are rewarded with entry into the second qualifying round of the newly created Europa Conference League.
That may change, depending on who wins the Scottish Cup. But, regardless where their Uefa journey begins next term, it will be viewed as a welcome consequence of their domestic efforts rather than the driving force.
Which is why they were happy to seal their shot at something bigger at Easter Road on Wednesday but it’s also why the response to achieving it was so low key.
This is a squad who want to assert themselves as best of the rest by delivering a top-three finish for the first time in 16 years. It would grant them entry into a small and exclusive group of Hibs teams who have reached such heights, and thanks to cup exploits could write them into the history books as one of the most successful squads in the club’s history.
And, they have made it clear that is what they are reaching for.
Given that this is a squad who have had their mettle questioned this term, they could have made more of European qualification and fourth place. They could have used that as a buffer if things do not transpire the way they want in the coming few weeks, as they wrap up the league campaign and attempt to move beyond Motherwell on Saturday and into yet another semi final and beyond.
But rather than showing fear, they were bold. They could have settled, at least publicly, but they have put themselves out there.
After being badly burned twice this season, that takes belief in each other because while one more league win should wrap up third, courtesy of their six point advantage and superior goal difference, they still have to get over that line. And three tough cup games still stand between them, silverware and guaranteed European football until December.
But those targets are attainable. Which is why fourth was not considered worthy of jubilation.
Their eyes are on far bigger prizes and, to their credit, this squad is not afraid to admit it.