ALAN Maybury believes facing a resurgent Dundee United will provide a stern examination of a revitalised Hibernian.
Hibs enter the weekend’s fixtures level on points at the top of the Clydesdale Bank Premier League with Celtic as manager Pat Fenlon appears to have instilled resilience and results at Easter Road. While Hibs have battled for survival in each of the last two seasons United have been consistently challenging at the top of the standings and after a poor start are now seventh in the table, unbeaten in their last four.
“At the end of the season they’ll be a lot higher up the league,” said Hibs full-back Maybury of tomorrow’s opponents. “I don’t think it’s any big surprise that they’re starting to pick up. They’re just starting to get some of their players back from injury and pick up a bit of form – it’s come at a bad time for us. We know it’s going to be difficult, but it’s a big game and a good opportunity for us to try and cement what we’re doing.”
Winger Gary Mackay-Steven is among those United missed in recent weeks, while further threats from the visitors come in the shape of Johnny Russell, Jon Daly and former Hearts forward Rudi Skacel.
Maybury is set to continue at right-back in place of Tim Clancy (groin) and could face Mackay-Steven’s trickery.
The 34-year-old added: “They’re effective in what they do. Jon Daly’s a big player for them and then they try to get it out to the old-fashioned wingers. In training I’m up against some good players, Leigh Griffiths and Ivan Sproule’s pace. I’ve been around the block a couple of times. I know how to deal with some of them; some of them I just can’t catch.”
Fenlon’s Hibs also seem to have overcome their home struggles. This season at Easter Road, Hibs have four wins and two draws from six matches.
Maybury signed ahead of the opening home game of the campaign – the 1-1 draw with Hearts in the first capital clash since May’s 5-1 Scottish Cup final loss. Of the home form, he said: “It helped there was a derby for the first game. There was the attitude that we had to make sure what happened in the cup final didn’t happen again. If nothing else you compete and nine times out of ten fans accept that.
“Some days you just won’t be good enough, but we felt that put a marker down. That was the minimum that was required from then on and confidence builds; confidence can take you a long way in this game. We’ve had some good results here and little things like getting a draw at Celtic can make a big difference to confidence.”
The future may look bright, but Hibs will not be allowed to get ahead of themselves, not while Fenlon is in charge. Maybury added: “He keeps banging on: ‘there’s nothing been achieved’, ‘we’re not resting on our laurels’ and he gives you a rocket if you need it. We’re doing well at the moment, but there’s a long way to go.”
United manager Peter Houston also insists his side’s secret to recent success has been refusing to look too far ahead. The Tannadice club have shaken off their early-season sluggishness which saw them slip to second bottom and moved up into seventh place thanks to their hard-fought 1-0 win away to Motherwell during the week. United are in the middle of a hectic schedule which has brought out the best in Houston’s men, who were widely tipped to be challenging for second spot in the SPL before a ball was kicked. And Houston, who watched his side come from 2-0 down to earn a share of the spoils in last Sunday’s match with Celtic, is not about to change his philosophy which has served the Taysiders well in the past.
He said: “We’ve played against some good sides recently and it’s been hectic. St Mirren fall into that category, Aberdeen are a good team, Hearts are one of the best in the country and Celtic are obviously an excellent side.
“But we’ll just take one game at a time. That’s always been our policy at this club and it’s something we’re happy with. Hibs are the first obstacle which we see in front of us going into Sunday’s match. By treating it this way, we can see the strengths and weaknesses of each club and try to come up with a game-plan which we can execute nearer the time.”
Houston is full of praise for Fenlon’s side after defeating them easily on the opening day of the season back in August. Houston said: “Hibs are in really decent form. They got a draw at Parkhead earlier in the season and because of that you’re confidence naturally grows from there. They’ve had some other good results since then so it’s been one thing after another for them. I was at the Motherwell match when they beat them 4-0 in the Friday night game and they certainly took their chances.
“We’ll have to be at our best to win and we’re under no illusions about how tough its going to be for us.”