Michael Weir: Hibs future is bright regardless of this season’s outcome
Regardless of how this season ends, Hibs have given themselves a really good platform to build for coming seasons.
It’s been quite a few years since the club managed top-six finishes in the Premiership in successive seasons, fourth last year and still with an outside chance of doing so again this time round.
Our fortunes have been turned around since Paul Heckingbottom came in, a run of ten league matches without defeat is no mean feat and one which has seen the club soar up the table and into fifth place.
Drawing the derby having taken the lead was disappointing, leaving us four points behind Kilmarnock with only three games to play, a situation in which we just have to give each and every one of them everything we have and see where our efforts ultimately take us.
Heckingbottom will, undoubtedly, be looking to next season with a good idea of what he needs to do to improve things yet again, which players he wants to keep, which positions need strengthened or need a bit more cover and so on. I’d imagine he’ll be looking for a bit more depth in his squad given he’s used just 12 players in his starting line-up throughout this run with, until the recent return of some from injury, his bench looking pretty thin at times.
However, the chances are he’ll be losing the likes of Marc McNulty, Stephane Omeonga, Ryan Gauld, Adam Bogdan and Thomas Agyepong as their loan deals come to an end and they return to their parents clubs while decisions will also have to be made regarding the future of players who are out of contract most notably Marvin Bartley, while the short-term deals of Gael Birigimana, Jonathan Spector and Miquel Nelom all come to an end.
It will be difficult to replace some of these guys and while Darren McGregor and David Gray have both been given new four-year deals, I’d be surprised if both of them are still playing week in, week out when those contracts expire. We’ll need more experience in that area as I don’t think it would be fair to expect Ryan Porteous to simply step straight into central defence.
Players will go but Heckingbottom will still have the nucleus of his side together to base his rebuilding around and, as far as I am concerned, I’d like to see him do so with the next few years in mind. I don’t believe you can do that by overdoing the loan system. It can help, but if you have too many players on loan you are simply going to be facing a rebuilding job summer after summer rather than just tweaking and improving your squad each season.
Supporters are feeling really good about the club right now, optimistic and already looking forward to next season having enjoyed the past two or three years so, hopefully, Heckingbottom and his backroom staff can take advantage of that and hopefully continue the upward spiral we are on.
The feelgood factor would have been just that little bit deeper had we managed to win the final derby of the season to hold the bragging rights for a few months and to my mind it was a chance missed.
I’ve little doubt that had Marc McNulty converted the penalty we’d have gone on to win the game. We were well in control at that time and had we gone ahead I’m certain we could have gone on to get another one or even two.
Apart from one good save from Ofir Marciano in the first half, Hearts didn’t have a chance, whereas we saw Vykintas Slivka put a header straight into the arms of Bobby Zlamal and watched McNulty miss from the spot before we did score, albeit an own goal.
Being at home I felt we should have gone for a second right away when Hearts were still coming to terms with going behind but instead we sat off them, looked as if we wanted to see the game out and allowed them back into things.
You are always susceptible in any game when you are only one goal ahead and no more so in a derby – as all we Hibs fans knows only too well. Hearts had nothing to lose, they are a big physical side and we knew they would be throwing the ball forward and getting as many of their big players into the box as possible and it paid off for them.
The final result was disappointing but, overall, I thought our performance was good. But now qualifying for Europe is going to be even more difficult and I believe we are still capable of going to Ibrox and Rugby Park and getting something from those games.