Hibs have to find consistency in battle for European berth, admits Daryl Horgan
The Easter Road outfit will return after the winter break 11 points adrift of Aberdeen in fourth place but, while conceding it will be a hard ask to reel in the Dons, Horgan insisted it wasn’t a case of mission impossible.
Hibs’ final two matches of 2019 encapsulated the capital club’s up-and-down form, a derby-day win against arch-rivals Hearts at Tynecastle followed by defeat at Livingston, a result which left them sitting sixth in the table.
But as Jack Ross’ squad headed for Estepona on the Costa del Sol for a six-day training camp, Republic of Ireland internationalist Horgan is optimistic as to what the remainder of the season holds.
“Look, the absolute minimum is the top six,” he said. “We have to stay in there first and foremost, and then we have to kick on.
“The aim will be to get in the top four, let’s make no bones about it, it’s going to mean a difficult run for us.
“But we need to get there. The chance to play in Europe again would be unbelievable and that’s something we all definitely have to strive for.
“It won’t be easy but we need to aim for that, at the very least. It will be down to ourselves. The inconsistency we have shown has killed us.
“If we can cut that out and stop dropping the silly points we have been we’ll be right in the mix for it.
“And if we can be inside that top six at the split even just a couple of points off the teams above us with everyone to play that would be fantastic.
“I feel we’d be right in the mix and ready to go from there.”
Horgan accepted it was easier said than done but claimed he and his team-mates have what it takes to bring greater consistency to their game.
He said: “It’s a bit of everything, we just need to work on it and get a little bit more focused.
“We’ve done a lot of good things, but when it comes to the days where we have been inconsistent and the result hasn’t gone our way, we need to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
“We need to make sure the Ross County away, Livingston away and the couple of games were we were 2-0 up and we drew 2-2 don’t happen.
“We need to look at the Hearts game, where we go there and win 2-0.
“So it’s the little things like that, just learning from things you’ve done in the past and trying to make sure they don’t happen again. If we can sort that we’ll have a right good shot.
“The good thing is it’s minor details, really. It’s the small bits, the ugly bits, sometimes it’s a little bit of communication, pulling your team-mate around.
“That can all make a big difference to us because I think we can shoot right up the table if we sort all these things out.”
Having said that, the former Dundalk and Preston North End midfielder admitted inconsistency hasn’t suddenly become a problem, conceding it’s hindered Hibs not only under Ross, pictured right, but his predecessors Paul Heckingbottom and Neil Lennon.
“You could say it was a rollercoaster for us,” said Horgan. “Any year when you have three managers is not a good year. We’ve been too inconsistent, up and down. The run from late-2018 into Neil’s departure wasn’t anywhere near good enough.
“Then Paul came in and we really picked it up, we went ten games unbeaten and we got ourselves into the top six and looked really strong.
“And it looked like we’d be really strong coming into this season, too. But for whatever reason our results didn’t follow our performances. I thought we played some good football, we just weren’t clinical enough in both boxes, really.
“Then, unfortunately, he lost his job. And since Jack came in it has been good but there have been some bad bits in there.”
Horgan believes this week’s warm-weather training camp – which will end with a match against Willem II, currently fourth in the Dutch Eredivise and boasting former Hibs player Miquel Nelom in their ranks – will give Jack the time he needs to begin addressing those shortcomings.
He said: “This is the first real opportunity he has had to really work with us, especially because around Christmas time there were so many games, which we were winning for a large part of it.
“So he may feel he doesn’t have to change too many things. But now we have a free week he can get in as many training sessions as he wants, he can get us in for meetings.
“And because we’re away there won’t really be anything else going on, you’re not even heading out to the shops to get food or anything like that, everything’s purely focused on the football.”
Hibs will return from Spain to face runaway Championship leaders Dundee United in the Scottish Cup at Tannadice, a match Horgan admitted he’s already relishing.
He said: “It’s a great game to come back to and they’ll be right up for it as well. It’s the tie of the round and they’ll want to try and put a marker down. They’ve had a really good start to the season.
“They’re a team winning games and scoring goals every week, they’ve been very effective. So it will be a tough game for us but that’s the joy of the cup, isn’t it.
“It’s a game we need to be switched on for and we will be. I’m sure the manager will be working on what we need to expect out in Spain.”