HIBS striker Dominique Malonga is fast emerging as one of the finds of the current Scottish football season. Since arriving at Easter Road less than three months ago following his departure from Italian side Cesena, the languid 25-year-old has added full international status to his CV, while plundering nine goals for the Edinburgh club.
Dumbarton 3-6 Hibernian
Scorers: Dumbarton - Kane (50), Graham (61), Fleming (71); Hibernian - Allan (23), Malonga (27, 64, 85), Hanlon (30), Stanton (83)
Buoyed by making his debut for Congo as a late substitute away to Sudan in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier last Wednesday, Malonga cast aside any lingering fatigue from his lengthy travels to conjure a nonchalantly-executed hat-trick in Saturday’s emphatic vanquishing of Dumbarton. With the exciting prospect of competing in Africa’s showpiece tournament in Equatorial Guinea in January occupying his mind, the smart money is on the burgeoning striker maintaining a hot streak of form in which he has now struck six times in his last five games. “It’s been a good week for me,” he said, in typically understated fashion. “I was a little bit tired after my international duty, but I was okay.
“I was focused on the Dumbarton game and it went well for us. We did a wonderful thing for the country of Congo and now we have an opportunity to do more good things in the competition. It was wonderful to go away with Congo. I am happy I decided to go. Now I will just think about Hibs for the next two months and after that I will go away with my country. It’s exciting – it’s a wonderful opportunity for me and my country.”
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Malonga expects to be available for Hibs’ next six matches before heading off for African Nations duty after the New Year derby away to Hearts. By the time he departs, he hopes fourth-place Hibs are at least breathing down the necks of second-place Rangers, whom they now trail by just seven points. “I definitely believe we can close the gap on Rangers – we play them [at Easter Road] on 27 December so we have a good chance,” he said. “To catch them, we have to keep focused every time we go on the pitch.”
Malonga admitted their focus wavered briefly in the second half at the Bet Butler Stadium as Hibs, a highly-impressive attacking force for most of the afternoon, threatened to implode spectacularly. After a dominant first half in which, according to Dumbarton manager Ian Murray, Hibs led “3-0 going on 33-0”, the visitors allowed the Sons to twice close within a goal, at 3-2 and then 4-3. A couple of goals in the last ten minutes allowed Hibs to savour the type of scoreline that reflected their overall superiority.
Malonga may have grabbed the all- important hat-trick, but it was Scott Allan who once again stole the show with a majestic midfield display as Hibs made it eight games unbeaten in the league and five away wins on the spin. Afterwards manager Alan Stubbs claimed that the former Dundee United man is “in a good place” and “as good as anyone” in the Championship. Certainly, since the start of October no-one in the second tier has been more impressive than Allan, although Hearts midfielder Morgaro Gomis remains the most obvious early contender for Championship player of the year.
More performances like Saturday’s, though, and Allan will fall into the peerless category. According to Stubbs, the 22-year-old found it “too easy” for his own good at times against Dumbarton. He set them on their way to victory with a sublime finish midway through the first half after being released by an exquisitely-weighted pass from Danny Handling. Malonga doubled Hibs’ lead when he got in behind the home defence and clipped in from a tight angle before Paul Hanlon slammed in his side’s third goal in the space of seven minutes from a low Allan delivery.
Hibs looked home and hosed at the interval, but, as so often happens after such one-sided periods of football, Dumbarton improved and the visitors slackened off after the break. Substitute Chris Kane pulled one back five minutes into the second half and Andy Graham had Hibs creaking when he headed home to reduce the deficit to one. Stubbs’ side has generally avoided calamity this season, however, and just when they needed it most, Malonga conjured up a piece of magic when, with barely any backlift, he pinged a spectacular 30-yard shot high past the helpless Danny Rogers. “I love to shoot from outside the box,” said the striker. “My second goal was not my best ever, but it was my best for Hibs.”
Dumbarton once again tested Hibs’ resolve when Garry Fleming curled in an excellent low shot from distance, but substitute Sam Stanton came off the bench to score one and create another for Malonga in the last seven minutes as Hibs racked up six goals for the first time since their 6-6 draw at Motherwell four and a half years ago. “I’m happy with my hat-trick, but I am more happy because we won the game,” said Malonga. “It’s not about me, the whole team was wonderful. I’m not bothered about finishing top goal-scorer or anything like that – I just want to see Hibs in the top league.”
The way they’re going, particularly away from home, he might yet get his wish.
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