Hibs can't afford another Ross County midweek horror show as belief builds from Celtic showing

Almost exactly a year ago, Hibs faced Ross County at Easter Road in a Tuesday midweek match.

Expected to prevail and assert their candidacy for third place in the Premiership, Hibs went down 2-0 to goals from George Harmon and Alex Iacovitti on a cold night on November 8, 2022. It was the sort result that summed up the club’s inconsistency under then manager Lee Johnson and while they finished fifth last season and ultimately qualified for the Europa Conference League, taking care of the Staggies was the sort of match that would have allowed third place to become a realistic possibility.

This campaign, Hibs’ goal remains the same: best of the rest and the potential for European football until Christmas. Under new manager Nick Montgomery, there has been improvement. Hibs look a much more organised and reliable unit than they were under Johnson. Montgomery has only lost once since taking the tiller, a 4-0 thumping by Rangers, but the way the team regrouped on Saturday to draw 0-0 with champions Celtic was laudable. Hibs were rightly criticised for being cavalier at Ibrox in an aggressive 4-4-2 formation but they were far more streetwise and conservative against Brendan Rodgers’ men with the same shape. In particular, the back four stood up to real scrutiny, with the often maligned centre-half Rocky Bushiri keeping Kyogo Furuhashi and Co quiet. Montgomery had lamented the team’s sloppiness and errors against Rangers but none of that was on show last weekend.

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Jordan Obita, another strong performer at left-back, expects Hibs to take heart from their performance against Celtic. “We are all looking forward to Tuesday, we come into this off a good result against Celtic. We are all really positive after that draw and the clean sheet. We were very compact on Saturday, we were solid and defended from the front. We made it difficult for them and forced them to go around the outside which is a difficult thing to do against a team like Celtic. If we can do that against the best team in the league, then we can do it against anyone.

The Hibs players train ahead of Tuesday's match against Ross County at Easter Road.The Hibs players train ahead of Tuesday's match against Ross County at Easter Road.
The Hibs players train ahead of Tuesday's match against Ross County at Easter Road.

“We’re back at home on Tuesday, so we will have our fans behind us and we are all confident that we can take three points. We know Ross County are a very solid team, they tend to play man for man which can be hard to play against and create space at times. But we know what we have to do and we are all fully focussed on making sure we pick up three points.”

Hibs are currently nestled in eighth place in the Premiership on ten points after ten games, among a congested midriff in the standings. Like usual rivals Hearts, a point ahead of them, and Aberdeen, a point behind, there has been a lack of consistency in their matches this season. Hibs can point to the trauma of changing managers so early in the season with third-placed St Mirren, eight points ahead of Hibs right now, playing Celtic on Wednesday, Hibs know there is the potential to cut the gap. However, they will come up against an obdurate opponent in Ross County, who are still smarting from squandering a lead in their weekend draw at Motherwell.

Their manager Malky Mackay insists there is no time for his squad to feel sorry for themselves as they prepare for a third away game in a week at Easter Road. The Staggies were pegged back from 3-1 up and had to settle for a share of the spoils against Motherwell on Saturday – their second successive Premiership point on the road having drawn 0-0 against Dundee in midweek. Mackay believes it is a testament to his team that they came away from two tricky venues disappointed at only picking up two points, and he is now hoping for another positive performance at Easter Road.

“I can’t have hard luck stories or people feeling sorry for themselves, it’s this league and you’ve got to make sure you get yourself ready,” Mackay said. “I think the Old Firm are one set of teams and the rest of them we can genuinely go toe-to-toe with anybody. The overarching message is I need people mentally and physically ready for Tuesday night.”

Elias Melkersen of Hibs looks on dejected during the defeat by Ross County on November 8 last season.Elias Melkersen of Hibs looks on dejected during the defeat by Ross County on November 8 last season.
Elias Melkersen of Hibs looks on dejected during the defeat by Ross County on November 8 last season.

A mixture of postponements coupled with the international break has caused a fixture pile-up for County. It has forced Mackay’s side to clock up the miles in the past week and they will conclude a busy spell by hosting Celtic following their trip to the capital. “We’ve obviously got the St Mirren game and the Dundee game that were both cancelled, so we are fitting them in midweek alongside the scheduled midweek we have against Hibs,” Mackay added. The games are thick and fast and I think my best friend is that seat on the bus at the moment. We’ve got about a thousand miles between Dundee, Motherwell and Hibs on Tuesday night – but we recovery properly and get ourselves ready to go again.”

The decision to replace Yan Dhanda, deemed their most creative player, with Kyle Turner at half-time against Motherwell came as a surprise to many, though it was a move that paid dividends as he played an important role. Mackay is pleased at the depth within his squad and feels that is where they are a much different proposition to last season. “That’s what everyone is there for, the fact we’ve got a bench that can make a difference and that’s the big thing I’ve talked about regularly,” he said. “I want people to go and not give me the jersey back – and that was the consistency we didn’t show last year. People that are coming on the pitch being as good if not better than what comes off the pitch is what’s needed and that’s going to help us.”