Nick Montgomery scotches Hibs social media rumours as Motherwell and Dundee prepare for three-way tussle

Top-six fortunes may or may not be decided this weekend – with Hibees having the most to lose

Scottish football was first introduced to the top-flight split in the 2000/01 campaign – but this edition of it is surely the most controversial in its 23-year history.

The reason for that is a small patch of grass in the city of Dundee. Has it dried out yet? The Dees and Rangers certainly hope that by Wednesday, their twice postponed match will finally get the green light to take place at Dens Park, otherwise there is a real danger of the fixture being moved to a neutral venue behind closed doors. Five times deemed unplayable this season, Dundee’s home playing surface has become the laughing stock of the Premiership.

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Tony Docherty’s men can silence those chuckles, though, and secure their place in the top six on gameweek 33 by defeating Aberdeen at Pittodrie on Saturday afternoon and thus render next week redundant for that particular topic. Dundee currently occupy sixth place, a point clear of Hibs in seventh and three clear of Motherwell in eighth. They are the trio vying for the last remaining berth to join Rangers, Celtic, Hearts, Kilmarnock and St Mirren in the top half of the league for the final five matches. Too for ahead of Ross County in 11th place to be in real danger of facing a relegation play-off, missing out would make the remainder of the season a damp squib.

Motherwell and Hibs are both chasing a place in the top six.Motherwell and Hibs are both chasing a place in the top six.
Motherwell and Hibs are both chasing a place in the top six.

Dundee are not quite sitting ducks but anything other than a win leaves them vulnerable. A draw against the Dons would rule Motherwell out of the equation regardless of the outcome at Fir Park, but if Hibs were to win there against the Steelmen, they would be a point ahead of the Dees. If Aberdeen win, then it is guaranteed that Dundee will be overtaken, given their goal difference (-10) is inferior to Hibs’ (-7) and Motherwell’s (-5). Such a scenario would leave Dundee needing to take something from title-chasing, in-form Rangers on Wednesday.

Past results in the previous clashes that are of relevance favour Dundee. Motherwell defeated Hibs 2-1 at Fir Park in August and then the pair drew 2-2 at the start this year. Dundee drew 1-1 at Aberdeen in January and then overcame the Dons 1-0 at Dens Park last month. Dundee do not have a good record overall in the north-east – albeit neither do the Dons this season.

Reaching the top six would be a fine achievement for Dundee given that they were promoted from the Championship last term and that this is Docherty’s first season as a manager. He was required to go on an extensive rebuilding project as soon as he arrived and has melded together a decent team. Motherwell would also see being on the right side of the split as a major achievement. Stuart Kettlewell’s men started this campaign strongly, hit a serious speedbump but have now gathered pace at the right time. Kettlewell has reinvigorated striker Theo Bair, who will no doubt relish coming up against a Hibs defence that continues to offer up goals too readily.

The Edinburgh club are the biggest story of this top six – for all the wrong reasons. Hibs were expected to be there with a little bit to spare, but in a season where Lee Johnson was swiftly replaced by Nick Montgomery as manager, they have stalled too often after a couple of promising displays. Saturday’s 2-1 defeat by St Johnstone resulted in the team being jeered from the Easter Road pitch. Matters are now out of their hands. Some of the fanbase has already lost faith in Montgomery, whose future has been heavily speculated upon since. Some social media rumours even went as far to claim that he is pining for a return to Australia, where he cut his managerial teeth with Central Coast Mariners before moving to Leith. The Yorkshireman completely scotched such suggestions.

Dundee have not lost to Aberdeen this season and drew 1-1 at Pittodrie earlier this year.Dundee have not lost to Aberdeen this season and drew 1-1 at Pittodrie earlier this year.
Dundee have not lost to Aberdeen this season and drew 1-1 at Pittodrie earlier this year.

“I find that funny,” retorted Montgomery when it was put to him that he was ‘homesick’. “I’m actually from Leeds, I spent a bit of time in Australia, and I made a decision to come here because it’s a big club, because of the challenge, because of the expectation and because of the pressure. I don’t know where those stories come from. But obviously they’re completely not true. I’ve enjoyed my time here and I am enjoying every day here. I’m really proud to be manager of this club. People like to create noise, it picks up and carries legs. That’s the power of social media, I guess.”

Missing out on the top six, however, might take the decision to stay at Hibs out of his hands. Making it is a baseline achievement for the club and while they snuck in last season before finishing fifth, they failed to do so under Shaun Maloney in the 2021/22 campaign and he lost his job not long after. With American billionaire Bill Foley swelling the coffers for next season and stating a clear aim of being the third-best team in Scotland, Hibs’ ambitions are much higher than making up the numbers.

It was put to captain Joe Newell that everyone at Hibs is being watched right now given a summer of big change on the horizon. “I'd imagine so,” he replied. “I think whoever the guys are coming in, the guys upstairs, at this stage it's the business end of the season. No matter what happens there will be some good games coming up hopefully. But it's not like lads go into different games going ‘I'm going to try harder this week’. We've got a good group here and everyone does always try their hardest. It's a massive one tomorrow and I'm personally not looking forward to anything more than tomorrow. It's a huge game, one that you have to look forward to because these are the games you should enjoy playing.”

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Hibs would rather be more comfortable and most of the pressure is on them in a three-way tussle with Dundee and Motherwell for that final berth. Missing out could bring further consequences – although we may not know the state for sure until Wednesday night.



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