At this point of the season last year, Hibs were struggling for survival in the SPL but going great guns in the Scottish Cup.
No Hibs fan will need reminding of how the club’s participation in last year’s tournament ended – with that infamous 5-1 drubbing in the final by rivals Hearts.
This year, things are different. Hibs have already beaten Hearts and Aberdeen in the cup and today face Kilmarnock at Rugby Park in the quarter-finals, secure in the knowledge that they are battling for a top six place rather than SPL survival.
Manager Pat Fenlon, pictured, says it is a much more comfortable position to be in. “We have got a lot more confidence and you can see that,” he said. “Our points tally is a lot better than it was at the end of last season. We have made progress, although we have had some bumps on the road, which was always bound to happen with such a big changeover of players.
“We have got to keep maintaining progress, we have to make sure we don’t sit on our laurels. We want to finish in the top six, that’s important, but we also want to get back to Hampden.
“If you’re scrapping at the wrong end of the table, as we were last year, a Cup game can be a bit of a relief but, where we are at the moment, we’re comfortable in our position. It’s a tight league but we feel we are making big strides and we are playing OK.”
It helps Fenlon that he now has a squad which he built, with perhaps only four players in today’s line-up surviving from last year’s final.
“Over a period of time you get the squad you try to build,” said Fenlon. “We have got good players in there, good characters, we have more belief in ourselves and we are better as a group. It’s more settled than it was last season, and there was an awful lot of other stuff going on in relation to making sure that we survived in the league. The cup was probably a bit of a sideshow but we definitely feel we are a much more settled unit.”
The SFA’s bag and balls have done Hibs no favours during their current Cup run, as Fenlon acknowledged: “We have had a tough draw with Hearts, Aberdeen and Kilmarnock and we played the three of them last year. It has not been easy, that’s for certain.
“We have gone down to Kilmarnock this season and done quite well. We’ll have a big support – I believe we have sold a lot of tickets, so we’re looking forward to it. There’s probably less pressure on us than playing here [Easter Road] at times, so we’d like to go there and put up a bit of a performance and, hopefully, their pitch will be a little bit better than our one at the moment.”
Hibs and Kilmarnock had a dress rehearsal in midweek with a 2-2 draw at Easter Road but Fenlon is not one of those who feels that league form can be torn up in the Cup.
He said: “Always as a player and now as a manager, I just see it as the next game and want to win it. It’s another game for us to get to a semi-final, which I think is the key to this – the prize at the end of it. It’s important we focus on getting through this one. There’s a long way to go before you think about anything else. It’s a tough game, away from home against a Premier League team that are in decent form.
“It’s a different game because they are at home, and you would think they might come out and have a bit more of a go at us. They came here and had a real good gameplan, and gradually got themselves into the game. We would probably expect them to have a right go at us early on and we have got to be prepared for that.”