More games the better for Hibs ace Dylan McGeouch
For a team which has already completed a punishing schedule of 49 matches, the prospect of a further seven in the space of just 20 days hardly bears thinking about.
But that’s exactly the prospect which confronts Hibs, six play-off matches to be negotiated if they are to achieve their priority target of promotion to the Premiership at the second time of asking and another as they confront Rangers in the final of the William Hill Scottish Cup and the chance to end 114 years without lifting the trophy.
Finishing third rather than second in the Championship table ensured Alan Stubbs’ players would have to do it the hard way, robbing them of a less arduous play-off programme which begins tomorrow night away to Raith Rovers and one which will prove unrelenting should they emerge victorious from the double-header against a Kirkcaldy side which has tasted defeat just once in their last 15 outings.
And, while Stark’s Park boss Ray McKinnon insists any further success for his “rag tag bunch of boys” will be a bonus, the pressure is undoubtedly on Stubbs and his players to not only beat Raith but to do so again over the course of next week with Falkirk lying in wait, the Bairns having enjoyed a few days respite after beating Hibs to second in the table by the slimmest of margins, just two goals.
It’s a path fraught with danger for the Capital club but Dylan McGeouch firmly believes there is enough within the Easter Road dressing-room to negotiate those perils, the midfielder having made a long overdue return from a niggling groin problem which has dogged him for much of the season before forcing him to miss the past two months.
While conceding the gruelling fixture programme he and his team-mates are now facing isn’t ideal, McGeouch insisted that on a personal level at least it’s one to relish, the 23-year-old determined to play his part in what he believes can still be a memorable end to the season.
Anxious to put these past weeks of frustration behind him, the former Celtic player said: “A lot of the boys have played a lot of games this season, but I think we have enough in the dressing-room, in the squad to deal with it. Personally, it’s good for me. I can get a run in the team, get fully fit.
“There are others back or about to come back from injury and, with this run and the cup final, we want as many players as possible available.”
McGeouch’s own injury hell ended as he replaced Liam Henderson for the final 20 minutes of the weekend 2-0 victory over Queen of the South, the player adamant that the patience shown over the past few weeks will pay dividends in the days to come.
After lasting just 31 minutes of the Scottish Cup clash with Hearts at Tynecastle in early February, McGeouch returned in the following round against Inverness Caley a month later but again made an early exit, leading to a visit to a specialist in London.
McGeouch said: “It was a groin problem which had been bugging me for much of the season, a wee niggle which forced me to come off a few times. I couldn’t get rid of it, perhaps I had been rushing to get back into the team but we had to get to the bottom of it.
“The specialist diagnosed a muscle imbalance, that I had to work on strength and conditioning to build it up. Thankfully there was no need for an operation but I haven’t had a day off since I saw him. I’ve been working hard in the gym with our sports scientist to get myself a base and then our running in the last few weeks.
“It was great to be back involved on Sunday. It’s been frustrating sitting in the stand watching games and being unable to do anything but hopefully the hard work has paid off.”
McGeouch admitted resisting the temptation to attempt an earlier comeback was difficult but the knowledge Hibs would be contesting the play-offs resulted in these games becoming his target.
He said: “The specialist came up with a plan for me to follow and, in the long run, it was better for me to aim to get myself fit for the play-offs rather than try to rush back again and take a chance of breaking down again. It was frustrating, but holding me back was good for me.”
Although he cautioned against being expected to go full throttle for 90 minutes in each of Hibs’ remaining matches, McGeouch insisted he’s ready to play as big a part as possible, saying: “It was good to get the time I did against Queen of the South. Hopefully, I can be involved again tomorrow night and again at the weekend, to keep building on it.
“I can’t go daft and expect to play three 90 minutes in a row. I’m still working hard in the gym to get myself into top condition to play.”
As daunting as the play-offs may appear – a showdown with the Premiership’s second-bottom team awaiting whichever of the Championship sides makes it through – McGeouch insisted the memory Hibs’ own record against top-flight clubs this season should stand Stubbs’ players in good stead.
Aberdeen, Dundee United and St Johnstone were all dispatched from the League Cup while Hearts and Inverness were sent spinning out of the Scottish Cup, leading McGeouch to say: “We have to remain positive. Most of the games we’ve had against Premiership sides we’ve won, which shows we can compete at that level. Everyone knows we can do it, so we have to remain focused and get the job done.
“It was hard for me to miss the League Cup because of injury but the boys have done well getting to another final this season. It’s something to look forward to. We all know Hibs haven’t won it [the Scottish Cup] for a while so it would be good to do so for everyone at the club.”
However, McGeouch insisted, all eyes are firmly focused on tomorrow night and nothing else. He said: “Credit to Raith, they have done well, they’ve been on a good run but it’s all about us.
“It’s got the makings of a good game at Stark’s Park but we’ll be looking to do well, to bring them back to Easter Road on Saturday and finish the tie off.”