Neil Lennon has urged his players to seize the chance to finish second in the Premiership table – because they might never get the opportunity to do so again.
Hibs sit fourth but know a win against Hamilton tonight could take them to just a point behind Rangers and Aberdeen. The Dons, trailing Rangers only on goal difference, face a tricky trip to Motherwell this evening.
And, Lennon insisted, another victory over basement outfit Ross County in Dingwall on Saturday, in the final round of fixtures before the split, would give the Easter Road club a good platform going into what he called the “gargantuan” games that would follow.
Lennon, pictured, is taking nothing for granted, pointing out that Hibs haven’t beaten Hamilton this season. He does, though, believe if his players can produce greater urgency than they did in the first half of their 2-0 win over Partick Thistle at the weekend and replicate what they produced in the last half-hour of that match they’ll have a good chance of extending their unbeaten run to eight games.
“It’s a difficult game because they’re a difficult opponent,” said Lennon. “More times than not Martin [Canning, Hamilton’s manager] seems to get a result when they really need it.
“They gave us a good going over in the third game of the season. That was a good lesson, coming up against a real battle-hardened Premiership team, and we may well have that again.
“However, it is a game in hand we have over teams around us and it’s important we maximise the opportunity when it comes.”
Lennon has vast experience of pressurised situations and acknowledged many of his players haven’t, saying: “It’s all good, but it can change very, very quickly. They might never get this opportunity again, to be so close to second place with five, six, seven games of the season to go. They’ve played well and handled the big games very, very well.
“For me, they are all big games now, regardless of the opposition. Hamilton want to win the game and Ross County will want to win at the weekend for their own reasons. After the split, you’re going into gargantuan games again against the top six. It’s very exciting.
“But we have to negotiate these games and give ourselves a good platform going into the split.”
Lennon, who will see Ofir Marciano return in goal tonight following his one-match suspension as Cammy Bell has picked up a calf injury, admitted his side were well ahead of where he thought they’d be at this stage of the season.
He said: “We’ve won more games than I could have envisaged. Since the winter break, we lost the cup game, but the reaction to that has been fantastic and they’ve played some stellar football as well. I’m really enjoying the moment.”
Meanwhile, Canning has told his whole squad they need to be ready to step in and make an impact as they prepare for a third away game in six days.
Accies travel to face Hibs after defeats by St Johnstone and Kilmarnock.
Shaun Want and Ronan Hughes have been drafted into the team in recent weeks and Canning wants each of his squad players to be ready for action.
He said: “We knew it was going to happen because we missed games throughout the course of the season when other teams were playing midweek. We knew we would have to catch up but that’s three games in six days so it is difficult.
“Thankfully we have good depth in the squad, and the majority of the squad are fit. So whatever team we put out I will be expecting them to compete.”
Accies hope to have Ali Crawford and David Templeton back from injury at Easter Road, where they won 3-1 earlier in the season.
Templeton dropped out of the side that lost 2-0 at Rugby Park on Saturday and Canning admits injuries had made it difficult to plan ahead.
“We need to keep it tighter against Hibs. If we do that, we have proven this season we can go and win there.”