Chips are down for Hibs, but Ian Murray clings to hope winning run at hand

LIKE men who spent a week in Vegas beating the dealer only to lose everything on the last hand, Hibs are eyeing the final weeks of the season with as much trepidation as anticipation, aware that despite all their earlier good work, they could yet end the campaign broke.

Defeat to Dundee United on Wednesday leaves them five points behind the Tannadice club in the quest for a third-place finish, and, with just two victories in 12 games, Ian Murray admits that Hibs have squandered the initiative they held earlier in the season.

As the bad times rolled, the mood has remained defiant, in press conferences if not always on the field of play, but after conceding more ground to Peter Houston's team, Murray was more candid.

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"There's no doubt that Dundee United are firm favourites now. We just have to hope they blow up now and have the little run we have had and that we can go on a run like they have been on. But to come so far this season and then see it slip away now would be terrible for us."

It is a measure of how the season has changed perceptions, though. Dundee United are a team which has been morphing into the current model of consistency and melded like solid steel over the course of three seasons, since the arrival of Craig Levein and Peter Houston in Tayside.

Since then there has been a natural evolution, from ninth place to third, every year the points tally higher than the previous year. It's a consistency Hibs are still aspiring to. During that same spell Hibs have had four different managers and mustered a season best of 52 points (just two more than they have at the moment with seven games remaining), and had it into the top half of the league beyond the split just once in that time. In such context this season is an improvement but the recent slump may yet mask the promising start which had people debating the possibility they could even split the Old Firm,

But the split means that Hibs still have a change to salvage a positive denouement. "For us the split is a great thing now because we can kill off Motherwell, we can kill off Hearts and we can try and catch Dundee United. It is going to be hard because we'll be playing the top five sides after the split but that's where we need to come into our own now and show we are a good side. There are a few positives we can take from the other night, not a lot, but a few. For Dundee United I am not sure if it is a good thing or not because they obviously have to play us again. But you can flip that and say if they beat us again, that's it. And if they get third place then all credit to them."

Aware of Hibs own weaknesses and frustrated by the quirks which allow them to beat Old Firm sides one week and succumb to lowly-ranked teams the next, Murray has admiration in the strengths of his club's rivals. "They are sitting third for a reason and they have been the most consistent side outside the Old Firm for the last five years. All credit to them. They have had turmoil themselves, they have lost a manager and they were beaten 7-1 at Ibrox and they have bounced back from that. That's fantastic and they have some good players. Swanson seems to score against us a lot, there is Webster, Kenneth, Dixon. So fair play to them, they have done really well.

"But we are the type of team who will lose to Dundee United and then go and beat Celtic this Sunday.

"We know we can go and beat them, we have beaten them already. So there is no reason why we can't go out there and do it again.

"There is an anger and a disappointment at not winning games at the moment. But Celtic's a side that are not firing on all cylinders either, so you are probably looking at two teams who are going through a wee sticky patch and we'll both be eager to win the game."

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Celtic's league season has already gone bust. Instead of sticking, Hibs' are hoping their's can still deal them some success.