Another stoppage-time goal saw Hibs flash their Championship title credentials and amped up the importance of next Monday’s head-to-head with Rangers.
Defeat for the Ibrox side earlier in the day, coupled with that Dominique Malonga goal three minutes into time added on, saw the Leith side draw level with the early season pacesetters and they now have the opportunity to overhaul them.
“I think Rangers have always been looking over their shoulder,” said Hibs midfielder John McGinn. “They can kid you on and say they haven’t, but we have always been there and that won’t change. They can’t ignore us now.”
The fact that Falkirk are also closing in on the top makes it an interesting tussle but it is one that does not intimidate McGinn or his Hibernian colleagues as they plan to extend their 17-game unbeaten run with more points in Govan.
“We don’t fear anyone because we know if we play to our best then we can beat anyone, but Rangers will feel the same,” he said. “It’s going to be an end to end game but we need to roll our sleeves up and try to get the three points.”
Against Falkirk last week and then against Queen of the South on Saturday, that character and determination not to lose was evident. Both weeks they kept pressing deep into stoppage time to salvage something from games which sometimes promised little. On Saturday, they tried and having started keenly they conjured up attempts from James Keatings, Jason Cummings and Martin Boyle. Even the defenders got involved in trying to breach the visitors’ rearguard but with Darren McGregor and Liam Fontaine coming up short, it was a case of so near, yet so far.
But as the anxiety grew inside Easter Road, with fans fearful that an under-par showing would see their team pass up a glorious opportunity to cash in on Rangers’ slip, Hibs held their nerve and showed grit where guile failed them.
They were aided by the referee Brian Colvin, who seemed to favour Hibs with the drop-ball deep into stoppage time. Fontaine rolled the ball forward to McGinn, he swung a cross-field pass to Henri Anier, who played in advancing full-back David Gray and his high delivery was met by Malonga who sent his downward header into the net and saw the tension in the stands dissipate, replaced by euphoric celebrations. “It’s a massive win and a big statement from us,” said McGinn, who was happy to be involved after the red card he received in the previous game had been downgraded to a yellow on appeal, allowing him to bodyswerve the two-game ban that would have seen him stuck on the sidelines against Queen of the South and Rangers.
“We didn’t play well but we have that quality right at the end,” he added. “We showed it last week as well that we have great character in the dressing room and long may it continue. When opposition teams give us opportunities to catch up then we have to capitalise and the gaffer said to us it was really important to win. We’d like to have done it a little bit easier but the three points is all that matters.”
Their opponents were unable to hold on but having run them close for most of the game, Queen of the South’s Derek Lyle believes Hibs will struggle to get the better of Rangers over the course of the entire league campaign.
“Hibs are a really good team with some great players but, personally, I believe Rangers will pip them,” said Lyle. “I just think Rangers have more all over the pitch.”
But McGinn says it is in Hibs’ hands. “We are playing well but there will be twists and turns throughout the rest of the season and we just have to make sure we don’t slip up,” he said. “We are a confident bunch and we have the momentum and we have to make sure we hold onto that after the Rangers game.
“Next week will be a really exciting game and it’s one we are all looking forward to. There has been a lot of build-up already and now as players we can focus on it too. We couldn’t look too far ahead and we will be looking to exploit their weaknesses and play to our strengths. It should be a good game.”