Keith Wright admits he’ll have mixed emotions when he watches his two old clubs battle it out at Easter Road tomorrow, both desperate for the three points for entirely different reasons.
Hibs, of course, are anxious to restart the SPL season with a win which will keep them in the hunt for a place in Europe, while basement outfit Dundee are simply battling to remain in the top flight, the Dens Park club already nine points adrift.
While keen to see the Dark Blues avoid relegation, Hibs-daft Wright hopes it will be Pat Fenlon’s side which emerges victorious at the start of what he believes is a critical period for both clubs.
Although Hibs lie fourth, just two points behind second placed Inverness Caley, they have Aberdeen and St Johnstone breathing down their necks with matches against both on the horizon, in addition to a fourth round William Hill Scottish Cup clash against the Dons.
Dundee, on the other hand, host Kilmarnock and then travel to face Hearts after tomorrow’s game before a crunch match against second-bottom Ross County, an encounter they’ll hope to be going into without having fallen any further off the pace.
To that end, Wright believes Barry Smith’s players will pitch up at Easter Road intent on frustrating Hibs in much the same way Ross County did on Boxing Day, happy to settle for a point but hoping they can land a sucker punch in the way the Dingwall club did that day.
Former Hibs striker Wright, now an SFA development officer with Midlothian Council, said: “I’ve got a soft spot for Dundee as they gave me the chance to go full-time but, to be truthful, I’ll be hoping Hibs win, although I also want to see Dundee survive at the end of the season. The two of them will be desperate to get the win.
“Dundee are fighting for their lives and I think they’d be happy with a point. I can see them being similar to Ross County the other week, they’ll perhaps leave big Colin Nish up front by himself and look to get everyone else behind the ball.
“I’d imagine they’ll try to frustrate Hibs, to get the fans a bit nervous and for that to transmit itself onto the pitch so it could well be a case of being patient. The onus will be on Hibs to try to get an early goal. If they can do that then, at some point, Dundee will have to open up a bit and that would suit Hibs fine.”
While Hibs struggled to break down County’s stuffy defence, they sprang a surprise a few days later by beating champions Celtic for the first time at home in four years thanks to top scorer Leigh Griffiths’ 14th goal of the season, Wright believing the Hoops’ more open style allowed Hibs a freedom they obviously enjoyed.
A draw away to Hearts before the SPL shutdown for a two-week break resulted in Hibs taking five points from their four matches over the Festive Period, a total which Wright feels possibly fell slightly short of expectations.
Wright said: “The points probably came a wee bit differently to how Pat Fenlon might have expected. To me they have to be up to the standards they set against Celtic tomorrow. I’m sure Pat will have been dwelling on the positives during the break while the players will have had the chance to rid themselves of any wee niggles and to have recharged the batteries.”
Hibs will also go into tomorrow’s match boosted by the news that both Griffiths and defender Ryan McGivern have extended their loan deals until the end of the season, while hope remains that Honduran internationalist Jorge Claros will follow suit over the course of the next few days.
Griffiths’ goals naturally stand out, having helped the on-loan Wolves hitman earn his first full Scotland cap, but Wright also believes McGivern has made his own contribution at the other end of the park.
He said: “The back four along with Ben Williams is looking far more solid. In James McPake and Paul Hanlon you have two centre-halves who can handle most forward lines; to me they have been getting better and better together while the boys on either side of them have also done well – to emerge from games against Celtic and Hearts without losing a goal is evidence of that.
“In Leigh you have a striker who can cause any team problems. He’s proved that with the goals he’s scored and the fact he’s staying until the end of the season will have given everyone a lift. I also think Eoin Doyle is going to be a great player for the club, he’s another who is getting better all the time. Eoin and Leigh are working well together and maybe with the addition of one or two new faces could see them end up in the top two or three this season.”
One addition Wright admitted he’d love to see would be a “Pat McGinlay-like” midfielder. Recalling his former team-mate, he said: “Pat was always good for 12 to 14 goals a season. Running from deep was his strength and as centre-forward I knew if I could get a flick on he’d be getting himself ahead of the frontmen.
“Someone like Pat would really help Leigh and Eoin, someone to give opposition defences another problem and someone who can add a few more goals to the side.
“Having said that, though, Pat Fenlon has gone a great job. He’s totally turned things around, there’s a completely different atmosphere around the ground now with the fans really looking forward to games and believing the team can get the results.
“There’s been a fair amount of inconsistency throughout the league, but any team which can put together a bit of a run will have a right good chance of pushing themselves right up there. I don’t see any reason why Hibs shouldn’t be able to do so but for that to happen then they have to ensure games like tomorrow’s are won.”