Hibs Rankin admits he'll be keen observer as Euro rivals challenge the Old Firm

JOHN RANKIN spent 90 nail-biting minutes by his radio last season just waiting to find out if Hibs would make it into the top six. The midfielder hoped he'd never have to put himself through such a roller-coaster of emotions again – but he admits he'll be tuning in tonight and tomorrow to see how Euro rivals Motherwell and Dundee United fare in re-arranged clashes with the Old Firm.

The Easter Road side need to take as many points as possible from their remaining five games of the season and hope it's enough to edge out the Steelmen and United in the race for Europa League qualifying spots.

At present, United, who take on Rangers at Tannadice tomorrow, are eight points ahead of Hibs, while Motherwell –visitors to Celtic Park tonight – are just two points behind John Hughes' men.

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Hibs are on a run of two wins in 13 games, the latest disappointment coming in the shape of a 4-1 hammering from Hamilton last weekend. Rankin knows they can't afford a repeat of that performance, and, having been forced to wait as Motherwell's defeat to St Mirren secured Hibs' top-six place last year, he's determined to keep the club's Euro fate in their own hands this time around.

He said: "We hoped that this year we wouldn't have to look for other team's results and, with the start that we had to the season, we probably shouldn't have to.

"Last season, we had to listen to the radio on the final day to find out if we would even get into the top six.

"This time it's slightly different, but I'm sure we'll all be tuning in tomorrow night and Wednesday night to see how the results go for Dundee United and Motherwell.

"It's going to be difficult now because Motherwell have got a game in hand, as have Dundee United, although I know they're against the Old Firm.

"To a certain extent, it's still in our own hands because we have still got to play the two of them again before the end of the season.

"We have got three massive games of our own coming up against Celtic, Rangers and then Hearts, but that's what you expect when you are in the top half of the table."

Rankin believes every side in the top half will drop points between now and the end of the season, simply because of the quality of opposition they will face in the final games.

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He said: "Everyone will drop points in the last five games so we have got to go out and make sure we get as many in the bag as we possibly can.

"It's going to be a difficult run-in, but that's the same for everyone in the top six.

"We might have the Old Firm in the first two games but they've got to play the same teams as us and I think everyone will drop points between now and the end of the season. We've got to start from now, look at the final five games of the season as if we're starting afresh.

"We've really got to dig in and get the place buzzing again. We've got to make sure that everyone's heads are up but, at the end of the day, it's not about what happens in training, it's about what happens when we go out onto that pitch.

"When we start getting a few results together again there will be happy faces in the dressing-room."

Rankin was first to admit his side weren't good enough against Accies on Saturday – and that the 4-1 scoreline could have been much more convincing had it not been for at least two tremendous saves from Graham Stack.

The Hibs keeper twice denied Flavio Paixao and kept out a dangerous corner from Dougie Imrie and Rankin continued: "We can't afford any more performances like the Hamilton game. I think that we didn't give too bad an account of ourselves in the first half but the second half was poor.

"We really just crumbled but we can't allow it to affect us, we've just got to roll our sleeves up and get on with it until the end of the season. When we went in at half time, we had been a goal down but had managed to bring ourselves back into the game with big Nishy's header.

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"We had probably been the better team in the last 20 minutes of the first half and, going in at the break, were probably looking the more likely team to take something out of the game.

"We were buzzing at the break and we knew that the next goal was going to be hugely important. We knew that we couldn't feel sorry for ourselves but, to be fair, that was exactly what we did. We were 2-1 down fairly quickly after half-time and it was from another penalty kick but we're not going to argue with the referee because they were penalties.

"The third goal was a bit of a wonder strike, it maybe could have been prevented but you have got to take your hat off to the boy at the same time because it was a great finish.

"The fourth one definitely could and should have been prevented, it should have been up in Row Z instead of the back of the net. That's 5-1 we've lost at St Johnstone and now 4-1 against Hamilton.

"To be honest, in both games, our keepers have really managed to keep the scores down, which says a lot about how we've played."

Stack's saves apart, Hibs themselves came close to narrowing Accies' lead when Colin Nish created space for himself inside the box only for the ball to hit off his ankle. Sub Abdesallam Benjelloun then saw his late penalty kick – awarded when Rankin was tripped inside the box by former Hibs defender Martin Canning – blocked by the legs of Tomas Cerny. The Easter Road outfit now have a few days to lift themselves following the disappointment of New Douglas Park before facing Celtic at Parkhead in the first of their post-split fixtures. And the frustrated Rankin added: "We could have been a bit closer to Hamilton but things just aren't going our way at the moment either. Nishy had a good chance but the ball came off of his ankle and then Benji's penalty being saved.

"It's all been massively disappointing but at the end of the day we have just got to lift our heads, move on from here and try to get one of those European places."