Just a few weeks ago, Hibs appeared to be in the throes of one of those slumps which have become so depressingly familiar at Easter Road in recent times. James McPake, the captain, wore the look of a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders as he sat with journalists in the Behind the Goals Bar chewing over the previous night’s abject home defeat to St Johnstone.
Back then, the current bright outlook seemed a pipe dream for all connected with Hibs. From the possibility of suffering an ignominious slip into the bottom six, the Hibs players, having drawn on their new-found resilience, are now well-placed to make a burst for legendary status.
The confidence is back, Leigh Griffiths is scoring again and the fans have rediscovered their early-season buoyancy. Hampden beckons again, and, if they really want it enough, so, too, does a second-place finish.Managers never like to get too far ahead of themselves, but, in this instance, Pat Fenlon would do well to emphasise to his players in the coming weeks just what could await them if they apply themselves properly in the next three months.
Fenlon’s functional and unspectacular outfit may lack the swagger of Tony Mowbray’s vibrant young team of the mid-Noughties and they might not be fit to lace the boots of Turnbull’s Tornadoes or the Famous Five, but make no mistake, the way is paved for this team to become part of Easter Road folklore.
Eleven games: nine in the league and two in the Scottish Cup. That’s all it will take. If Hibs can hold their nerve, show the right attitude and get a bit of luck along the way, it’s not beyond the realms that in three months’ time, they could be lying on the beach with Scottish Cup winners’ medals round their necks and basking in the glory of finishing second or third in the SPL. Considering the stricken state they were in last May, that would be some recovery. Of course, it remains nothing more than ‘ifs and buts’ at this stage. They could yet slip into the bottom six, after all, while they’re not exactly renowned for winning Scottish Cups even when the draw opens up for them. But at the risk of another massive letdown for the green-and-white army, it’s time for everyone at Hibs to really start believing this might just be their year. So what if it ends in tears? It can’t be any worse than last year.
Motherwell may be seven points clear in the battle for second, so it will take some effort to overhaul them, but there are still 27 points to play for and this Hibs team are good enough to claim the majority of them. They have the form striker in the country, a solid group of midfielders and, for the first time in a while, a strong defence with presence and character. They also have a goalkeeper who can be relied upon to produce the goods when needed.
With Aberdeen downtrodden and seemingly out of the equation, Hibs would appear to have the biggest, strongest squad – on paper at least – of all the contenders for second.
Of the teams left in the Scottish Cup, Fenlon’s men have proved already this season that they have the beating of Celtic and Dundee United, while it goes without saying that the Hibees’ semi-final opponents, Falkirk, should hold no fears.
The biggest obstacle to Hibs could be their own demons, but their renaissance so far this season suggests that the likes of Fenlon, McPake, Griffiths, Paul Hanlon and Jorge Claros have the drive to right the wrongs of last season and, in particular, last May.
Greatness awaits if Hibs have the desire and mentality to seize it.