The sight of Scott Allan throwing himself into defensive headers and making lung-bursting runs towards his own goal to make tackles and lash loose balls away was as much proof as this comfortable victory over Cowdenbeath that Alan Stubbs is getting through to his Hibernian players as they reach the business end of the season.
Goals by Fraser Fyvie and Jason Cummings earned the Easter Road outfit a seventh successive victory in league and cup competitions and their focus appears set firmly on those twin ambitions. With the Championship title having been long conceded to city foes Hearts, second spot is the next best thing and Hibs extended their advantage in that place to seven points over Rangers courtesy of another hard-earned three points. The Scottish Cup, as ever, is another dream waiting to be realised.
Stuart McCall’s managerial appointment at Rangers may in time give Hibs a tougher challenge for the runners-up position, which affords a bye into the semi-finals of May’s play-offs, but there was no sense in this trip to Fife that the capital men are allowing their sights to be deflected to goings-on in Govan. With two goals secured by half-time and the rutted Central Park deteriorating, the second half was not as straightforward, but the way Hibs dug in and managed the game as time wore on was as impressive as their fluid attacking had been before the break.
While Liam Fontaine and Keith Watson formed a redoubtable rearguard in the absence of the rested Paul Hanlon, it was the enthusiasm Hibs showed in pressing their opponents to win the ball back in the middle third of the pitch that will have particularly pleased Stubbs. Allan, Dylan McGeouch and Fraser Fyvie, as well as the more defensive-minded Scott Robertson, proved their commitment lies beyond the more glamorous elements of midfield as they helped their team to a fifth clean sheet in their last six outings.
“I think we’ve shown in recent weeks a different side to us,” said Allan. “We were playing some really good football in December and so on, but sometimes weren’t picking up the results.
“As the gaffer said it’s all about getting wins now and that’s what we’re doing week-in, week-out now and I just hope we can build on it into next week.”
Rangers have the opportunity to reduce the gap to Hibs when they chalk off one of their two games in hand against Alloa Athletic tomorrow night, but Saturday’s results have ensured that the Easter Road side will remain in second spot no matter what happens when they host the Ibrox side on Sunday. But, having earned three league victories against Rangers already this term, Allan is adamant it is a potentially pivotal game that should not be feared as they single-mindedly approach the campaign run-in.
“It does make it better when we come off and see Rangers have dropped points,” he added. “It’s good for us going into this weekend. We’ve just looked after ourselves and we just keep ticking over and getting the three points, and that’s all we can do. The way we’re going I think we’ll be able to do that, and just keep going, and you never know what could happen come the end of the season. Sunday’s another game, to be fair. If we keep playing the way we’ve been playing I’m sure we can pick up the three points again.
“Who knows whether they’ll be a different prospect under Stuart McCall? It’s still the same players. We look really confident just now and they’re looking for a win and some goals. We’re definitely the team on the up just now, so it will be interesting.”
Allan helped earn Hibs the breakthrough after just over half an hour of domination of possession and patient probing and it was no more than they deserved. The midfielder speared a fantastic diagonal pass into the path of the overlapping David Gray and the full-back’s pinpoint cutback was fired powerfully into the roof of the net from 14 yards out.
The second was as bizarre a goal as Cummings is likely to score in his career. Stubbs joked the teenager had been playing hide and seek as he suddenly appeared from behind Robbie Thomson to flick Colin Marshall’s passback beyond the goalkeeper and into the net.
Cummings’ failure to reappear after the break with a knee injury and the similar problem that ruled out regular strike partner Dominique Malonga at the weekend will be concerns for Hibs this week, but the manner in which they ensured there was never likely to be a Cowdenbeath comeback will provide them with extra self-belief.
After being rested for the win over Livingston last midweek, Allan was in impressive form again but was as slippery as his on-field display when questioned on his international hopes after being tipped for a Scotland call-up in recent times.
“I’m just looking to do well for Hibs and, hopefully, get us back up and do well in the cup,” he insisted as Gordon Strachan prepares to name his latest squad. “That’s all I’ve been doing all season.
“A Scotland call-up would just be a bonus, obviously, but I’ve not even thought about it, to be honest. I’m just trying to do a job for us. It’s opinions isn’t it? I’m just looking after myself on the weekend for Hibs.”
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