Nick Montgomery deserves credit for steadying Hibs ship - now it's about march on top six

February was fraught with danger for Hibs boss but with clear improvement, fans can look at rest of season with more optimism

Hibs manager Nick Montgomery has reason to feel satisfied with how a potentially fraught February has panned out, given its utterly horrific start.

A month that began with a dreadful 3-0 defeat at home by St Mirren has ended with optimism. Most of a Hibs persuasion left Tynecastle on Wednesday night disappointed that they weren’t able to win a derby on Hearts’ patch for the first time since 2019. There was obvious anger at the penalty award that allowed Lawrence Shankland to cancel out Emiliano Marcondes’ opener and secure a 1-1 draw, but the Hibs manager himself was quick to point out a litany of missed chances. Hearts were let off the hook.

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Hibs played well in Gorgie, in stark comparison to the bedraggled team that sloped off the pitch against the Buddies. In the wake of that match, Montgomery was called into question by a growing section of the fanbase. Pressure was mounting. Especially as the fixture list for the rest of February looked perilous on paper: Celtic at home, Inverness away in the cup, and then three league fixtures against Aberdeen, Dundee and Hearts. Only the Celtic match ended in defeat, a stoppage-time penalty their undoing.

The Hibs player applaud the away fans after the 1-1 draw against Hearts.The Hibs player applaud the away fans after the 1-1 draw against Hearts.
The Hibs player applaud the away fans after the 1-1 draw against Hearts.

Montgomery cannot be judged properly until next season at least, once he has his own team in with the backing of Bill Foley’s millions, but the way he has navigated choppy waters in commendable. Helped by the returns of Martin Boyle, Lewis Miller and Rocky Bushiri and some good winter window recruitment in Marcondes, Myziane Maolida and Nathan Moriah-Welsh, the 42-year-old has steadied the ship. Hibs are in the quarter-finals of the Scottish Cup and now just one point behind Dundee in seventh place as they chase, at the very least, a place in the top six.

A sure sign of a good coach is the ability to find solutions in the face of adversity. The most important switch that Montgomery has made is to tweak his formation. A disciple of 4-4-2, he has reverted to a slightly more conservative 4-2-3-1. Hibs are still an attack-minded, front-foot team but they have more ballast in the centre of the park. Moriah-Welsh, in particular, gives them more aggression and fight alongside captain Joe Newell in midfield. There has been more balance to Hibs of late: they still create a sackful of chances but don’t look quite as open as they did at the start of the month.

The return of Miller at right-back has helped, Hibs now not relying on two teenagers – Rory Whittaker and Kanayo Megwa – to plug that gap. Ask any Hibs manager of late and they will tell you life without Boyle is tough. He is still the club’s talisman and having him back around East Mains has made a big difference. And for only the second time since taking over in September, Montgomery named an unchanged XI to play Hearts. It looks like he has found his best team, with an attacking quartet of Dylan Vente, Boyle, Maolida and Marcondes a handful for most defences in this league.

Now it is about kicking on. Their last-eight cup tie against Rangers at home will undoubtedly be extremely tough but their league fixtures until the split go like this: Ross County at home then away, Livingston at home, Rangers away, St Johnstone at home and Motherwell away. Only the Ibrox team sit above them in the table. Dundee’s fixtures look trickier. The next six weeks should be about a march on the top six – and possibly beyond.