AFTER overcoming a sticky start to the season, Hibs have set about becoming one of the most consistent teams in the country.
Since losing narrowly at Ibrox last month, they have won five games on the spin without conceding a goal. Their most recent triumph, Wednesday’s shock League Cup victory over Aberdeen, has reignited a hope among supporters that they are equipped to carry a genuine title challenge to a Rangers side who had their early-season aura of invincibility breached by St Johnstone in the same competition on Tuesday.
Darren McGregor, however, knows that all the euphoria from Hibs’ midweek exploits will instantly be lost if they are unable to rack up another three points at home to a St Mirren side who have taken just five points from their opening seven games.
“Since that game at Ibrox we’ve been really steady,” said the former Cowdenbeath, St Mirren and Rangers defender. “We’ve won every game and not conceded so it’s just a matter of putting the cup to one side for the minute. After Wednesday everybody was on a high but the focus is now all on St Mirren. They haven’t been on the greatest of runs but they’ll be looking at this as a game to kick-start their season. We need to be vigilant against that and make sure we’re not complacent.”
McGregor was reluctant to read much into the fact Rangers, who had won all 11 of their previous matches, showed they are fallible in the same week that his own team became the first to beat the top-flight leaders. Hibs remain nine points behind the Ibrox team with a game in hand. “We just need to control our results,” he said. “We’re aware Rangers got beat but I think they’re a really good team who will be hard to beat. We just have to win our games and, if we keep doing that, then we can try to deal with Rangers when we play them.”
If Hibs’ defence continues in the same vein, then they will have a chance. They have kept seven clean sheets in ten games this season and a remarkable 17 in their last 31 matches. This solidity has made it hard for McGregor to force his way into the team since arriving from Rangers last month although he was given his second start on Wednesday when head coach Alan Stubbs opted to play a 3-5-2 formation.
“It was a brave decision by the gaffer to go 3-5-2 because the team had been keeping clean sheets with four at the back,” said McGregor. “To change it up in a big game says a lot about his character and the faith he has in us as players. The boys at the back have done excellent. I was well aware it was going to be hard to get in the team because right along the back four they’ve been good defensively and in terms of the full-backs going forward. I’ve had to bide my time but the gaffer wanted to stick me in to a 3-5-2 against Aberdeen, which I’ve played in before. I thought we did well and we all stuck to our jobs.”
McGregor will hope to keep his place against the team that gave him his first crack at full-time football. The 30-year-old joined St Mirren from Cowdenbeath in 2010 and, despite being hit by two serious knee injuries in his time there, did enough to land a big move to Rangers in summer 2014. “I had a right good time there,” he said. “When I first went to St Mirren there was a lot of negativity about me because I was a Second Division player but they had faith in me and gave me a two-year contract. I got an injury in my second year and they were good enough to give me an extra two years, which was really good. I repaid them in the end but I’ve got a lot of good things to say about the club because they gave me an opportunity to showcase myself.”
Meanwhile, Hibs chief executive Leeann Dempster has praised the club’s supporters and urged them to keep rallying round their team as they seek to build on the midweek cup win.
In a letter to fans, she said: “We’re delighted with the performance of Alan and his team. We were up against the country’s in-form team and more than matched them across the park. We scored two excellent individual goals to cap a great team performance, and the defence showed why they’ve been receiving plaudits in the press of late.
“We needed that extra bit of support to see us through the last ten minutes and the fans delivered. It was a very special end to the match and a great one to share with everyone that was there. Thanks for your efforts [on Wednesday] night and over the season so far.
“Saturday’s game will make it five in six matches at Easter Road, and to me it’s no coincidence that we’ve built up a bit of momentum with these home matches. We’re going for our sixth win in a row now, and ideally another good performance to match. Hopefully you’ll be able to make it along to Easter Road on Saturday and all going well we’ll have another reason to celebrate.”