Alan Stubbs has often referred to Hibernian as a Premiership club playing in the Championship.
The fact that they have enjoyed unfettered runs in both the League Cup and the Scottish Cup despite coming up against some of the best in the top flight gives credence to his claims, but he and his players know those jousts will mean little if they do not make the most of every league match between now and the end of the campaign.
“We want to get promoted, it has always been our main focus and playing against the Premiership teams makes you want it even more,” said Stubbs. “But we need to keep our side of the bargain, ideally going up as champions and if not we’ll do it through the play-offs if we can.”
After the distraction of the knockout competitions, they now face a sequence of four league games in two weeks as they attempt to close the eight-point gap between themselves and leaders Rangers and kick that off with a lunchtime tussle with bottom-of-the-table Alloa Athletic tomorrow.
Hibs failed to capitalise when Rangers drew with Jack Ross’s side last weekend. They too had to settle for a point , against second-bottom side Livingston, but claiming another Premiership scalp in midweek has made them hungrier than ever to render those meetings an every-week occurrence next term.
“The league, that is what we need to concentrate on,” said defender Paul Hanlon. “There is no point winning against Premiership teams and then not getting promotion back to where we should be. That is our aim. We are not contemplating not winning promotion, the focus – no matter how we do it – is getting back to the top flight.
“We are ready for that. The players we have are more than capable of playing in the Premiership. But that is about playing well every week. There is no point raising our game against Premiership teams and then dropping points in the league.”
The target will be a tough one, according to Stubbs, who considers Rangers stiff competition for the title despite the long-term injury to their main striker Martyn Waghorn, and rubbishes the notion that Hibs would be favourites to win the play-offs should they fall short in the quest for automatic promotion, citing the way Motherwell dispensed with Rangers last term .
“The league was always going to be the most difficult because of how well Rangers are doing,” added Stubbs. “We’re doing very well but they’re doing very well also and we’ve just got to keep going and see where it takes us but our form is very good.”
While Hibs brought in Anthony Stokes in January to ensure a strong enough squad to absorb injuries and suspensions as the chase reaches its climax, Rangers failed to bring in cover for Waghorn. His absence will weaken Rangers and gives Hibs a timely boost. “He’s been so prolific this season and is obviously a very good player,” said Stubbs. “I knew him from down south and he has hit the ground running at Rangers. Kenny [Miller] can play through the middle and they could easily push someone forward from the No 10 position if they needed to. But it’s a blow for them and hindsight is a wonderful thing.
“They will still create chances, they just won’t have one of their most prolific strikers there for the short term.”
Hibs have the chance to pile pressure on Mark Warburton and his players tomorrow, enjoying the earlier kick-off, but if they are to bolster the dream of mixing it with the Premiership sides on more than cup duty next term, they have to be clinical in the way they take it.