Numbers adding up for strong Hibs challenge

THE only number that Hibernian supporters are concerned about is the digit that denotes their side’s separation from Rangers at the Championship summit.
Dominique Malonga salutes the Easter Road crowd after opening the scoring. Picture: Toby WilliamsDominique Malonga salutes the Easter Road crowd after opening the scoring. Picture: Toby Williams
Dominique Malonga salutes the Easter Road crowd after opening the scoring. Picture: Toby Williams

Fraser Fyvie, however, is hoping a figure of a different kind will be able to aid their attempt to pare down that 11-point deficit. Before Saturday’s 4-2 victory over Dumbarton, Fyvie was one of six players that had returned to contention following injury.

The midfielder and strikers James Keatings and Islam Feruz were utilised out of that group, which also included Farid El Alagui, Jordon Forster and Jamie Insall, but the sheer size and depth of the playing workforce has not been lost on the players.

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“The boys were counting the numbers before the game,” admitted the former Aberdeen and Wigan playmaker, who had been sidelined since August with a hamstring strain.

A quick glance at the official Hibs website indicates that head coach Alan Stubbs has a 25-man detachment to choose from.

“There’s a lot of players in contention to play every week and everyone is fighting for the jersey. I think it’s really healthy, though, because it means everyone has to be on top form to get that jersey.

“It’s been a long six weeks for me so it’s good to eventually get back on the park and get the three points.

“I pulled my hamstring and I came back after ten days and then did it again. It’s feeling good and it’s nothing to worry about now.

“It was probably me trying to get back earlier than I should have. You have to accept it happens and I’m back on the pitch now and I’m looking forward.”

A selection headache has come at the right time for Stubbs. Saturday’s match marked the start of a six-game run in three weeks.

The Leith side will now attempt to climb up to second and within eight points of Rangers by beating Falkirk tomorrow in a clash that was postponed last month due to international call-ups. Then they travel to face Raith Rovers, who currently sit second, with Rangers to follow.

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It is a sequence of games that could have a big say in whether Hibs can be genuine title contenders, but Fyvie knows they also need other teams to do them a favour.

“Hopefully they [Rangers] slip up at some point,” he said. “There are teams in this league that aren’t very nice to play against. They’re effective teams.

“Rangers got a late goal on Saturday [to beat Queen of the South] and it just shows that they’re not going to win by a lot of goals every week like they’ve been doing.

“They’ve been running over teams but there are some hard teams in this league to play against.

“We can’t affect what they do on a Saturday unless we’re playing them. We can only affect what we do as a team. We need to get three points every week to try and close that gap. Tuesday would keep the momentum going.

“We want to win every game and, come Tuesday, we’ll be looking to go there and pick up three points.”

Dom Malonga fired Hibs ahead after 21 minutes on Saturday with a sublime effort from the corner of the box but the hosts switched off a minute later to gift Grant Gallagher an equaliser.

Liam Fontaine headed Hibs back in front on 26 minutes before Jason Cummings converted a penalty two minutes before the break.

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James Keatings finished off an impressive team goal on the hour mark and Steven Craig added a consolation in the 74th minute.

A goal for Craig was a small crumb of comfort after returning from a lay-off.

The former Motherwell and Aberdeen forward said: “It’s been a stop-start season for me. I missed the last month with an Achilles problem. I only trained Tuesday and Thursday.

“It was good to get 20 minutes and, from a personal point of view, get a goal. But every time you score a goal you want it to be a winning goal.”