Michael Weir: New faces boost Hibs but spoilers like Bartley vital
I think it's safe to say all Hibs supporters were growing a wee bit anxious with our form before Christmas, so hopefully the last two results against Falkirk and Dundee United can settle everybody down and give the players a bit of confidence as they look to kick on and seal the title.
After a strong start to the season, we had begun to become a bit predictable but, with the addition of Chris Humphrey and Kris Commons, as well as the return to form of Jason Cummings, and the return to fitness of John McGinn, we look like we’re back in business at a vital stage in the campaign.
It was probably no coincidence that all four of those players had a part to play in our victory against United – our best performance of the season – because they all have the quality to hurt opponents. With a quick, natural winger like Humphrey added to the squad, we can now play all different formations, whether it’s the diamond, 3-5-2 or the way we played on Friday. Being able to play with two wide men gave us a different dimension, and United couldn’t cope.
In the middle, Commons gave us a good bit of spark alongside Cummings. You can see Commons is still not quite there in terms of his fitness and sharpness, but his quality has been there for all to see in the last couple of games. He has the vision to see a pass that can kill the opposition. If we can keep him until the end of the season, he’ll only get better.
It was no surprise that McGinn got such a great reception when he came on because he’s such an important player for us. Having that wee lay-off when he did could turn out to be a blessing in disguise for him because it’ll hopefully have given him a wee chance to recharge the batteries after a heavy run of fixtures since he joined Hibs. He was only on the pitch for a short time on Friday, but he looked refreshed.
For all the focus on the big names in the team, though, I thought the best player on the park was Marvin Bartley. Every team needs a player like him who can put their foot in and break the opponents’ game up. We had a lot of attack-minded players in the team, with the two forwards, the two wide men and even Dylan McGeouch, who likes to drive forward, so Bartley played a really important role in terms of steadying the ship.
It was a really strong performance all round. We had a good start, which helped, and we never looked in any danger all game. From the first kick of the ball, we were always in control. I must admit, I wasn’t expecting it to be as convincing as it was. It was really good to see, and all the Hibs supporters in the ground really enjoyed it.
In front of a crowd like that, we couldn’t have asked for a better performance. With more than 18,000 there, it was nice that we were able to get a result and a performance because that will hopefully coax many of the more casual supporters back. It would be great if we could get crowds like that every week, but the only way we’ll do that is if we finish this season strongly, win the league and then go up to the Premiership and start making our presence felt again. There’s still a long way to go yet before we achieve that. Four points is a decent lead, considering the shape we were in a few weeks ago, but it’s certainly not insurmountable. Two bad results and United could be ahead of us again, so we need to keep our foot to the floor and make sure we don’t give them any more encouragement.
This is the strongest position we’ve been in all season. It’s all well and good being strong at the start of the season, but this is the period that really matters, and, by going four points clear, we’ve given ourselves a good platform now to kick on and get the job done.
Psychologically, the players should be in a good place after the last two games, whereas it’s likely to be the opposite with Dundee United, who have lost their last two. After a tough run of fixtures over the last month or two, we now have a more favourable run of games coming up over the next month. Having picked up two great results against Falkirk and United, it’s imperative that we don’t then slip up at Dumbarton on Saturday. We know from painful experience how hard it can be to get a win through there, so there will be no excuses if we don’t approach it with the same application and intensity as we showed on Friday. We must tap into the feelgood factor that’s been generated on the back of the last two games and make sure we don’t let United off the hook again.