As Hibernian approached the post-split fixtures, manager Neil Lennon spoke of the need for four wins out of five if they were to have a hope of securing second place. Two games in and they are halfway to that tally and have already closed the gap on Rangers.
But their task is not getting any easier. According to striker Florian Kamberi, overcoming champions Celtic was one thing but manufacturing victory against Kilmarnock was even tougher. Next weekend they face the team currently leading the race, Aberdeen.
“I think it was a bigger win than last week against Celtic,” said striker Florian Kamberi after they finally saw off Killie, “and I think we can now go to Aberdeen with confidence. We’ve won two difficult games and showed character up to the 95th minute, so we deserve to be second. But we still have three games and we have to stay focused and keep going.”
The fact that they remained doggedly determined against Steve Clarke’s impressive side all the way to the final whistle, grabbing the goal that finally killed off the contest deep into stoppage time, underlined just how blinkered they are in this run in. While the fact that five different men weighed in with the five goals illustrated how well they have addressed the weaknesses that had been holding them back.
There has been an expansive and entertaining look to the way the side have tackled their first term back in the top flight but a plague of passed up goal chances was costing them points. The arrival of Kamberi, Jamie Maclaren and Scott Allan in January proved the missing pieces in the jigsaw.
“I think our opponents know what qualities we have, and we haven’t lost a [league] game since January – our last loss came against Celtic.” Kamberi sat out that match, meaning he has an enviable unbeaten record in the Premiership since arriving in Scotland. “It is not easy because opponents are well organised against us.”
Unbeaten in 11 as the campaign reaches its denouement, they are breathing down Rangers’ and Aberdeen’s necks, buoyed by a thrilling display against Kilmarnock.
It wasn’t just the goals, the outfield play was breathless. There were penalty shouts for Kilmarnock but not only did referee Don Robertson wave both aside as first Jordan Jones and then Stephen O’Donnell ended up on the turf, he also sent the Rugby Park manager to the stand, after deciding that his half-time complaints were excessive.
By that stage, it was honours even, after Kris Boyd had netted his first of the afternoon to cancel out Scott Allan’s opener and there would be little to settle the sides as the game wore on. Accurately described as a humdinger by Lennon, the action seesawed. But Hibs ensured that they took all three points as they out-gunned their guests in the second half.
A Steven Whittaker goal in the 53rd minute gave them the edge and, although Stuart Findlay levelled things again in the 61st minute, Hibs hit back three minutes later as Maclaren slotted past Leo Fasan. Kamberi extended that lead in the 76th minute before Boyd scorched a searing free-kick beyond Ofir Marciano with ten minutes remaining.
While both kept at it, with Killie seeking the equaliser, it was Hibs substitute Brandon Barker who ended an individual run with a clinical finish to keep Hibs’ ambitions on track and set up another intriguing test at Pittodrie this weekend.