Hughes says third place finish is not beyond Hibs

A DEFIANT John Hughes today refused to concede third place in the SPL was now beyond Hibs despite Dundee United opening up a five-point advantage with a 4-2 win at Easter Road.

But Hughes admitted it was going to be tough to rein in the Tayside club with only seven matches remaining, three of which will be against the Old Firm while Hibs will also have to travel to Tannadice where United enjoyed a 1-0 win over his side earlier in the season.

And making it even harder for the Edinburgh club is the fact they'll be without influential midfielder Liam Miller for the first match after the "split," the Republic of Ireland ace having picked up an early booking last night which will result in a one-game ban.

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Miller had been walking a suspension tightrope in recent weeks having had a red card rescinded after being sent off as Hibs went down 1-0 to Motherwell at Fir Park last month. However, he finally broke through the disciplinary points limit as he was shown a yellow card for a foul on United's Craig Conway.

The former Celtic, Manchester United and Sunderland player will be available for Sunday's clash with Celtic and the final match before the split at the 33-game mark, an away trip to Hamilton, but will then sit out Hibs' following fixture against opponents as yet unknown.

It's another worry for Hughes, who went into last night's match without the injured Merouane Zemmama, Kevin McBride, Paul Hanlon and Alan Gow, the Hibs boss revealing he expects the results of a second scan on playmaker Merouane Zemmama's knee injury to confirm the little Moroccan has cruciate ligament damage which will end his season and possibly sideline him for up to six months.

Although last night's defeat, which left Hibs with just nine points out of their last nine matches, would appear to make a fourth place finish the best his side can hope for, Hughes insisted he wouldn't be throwing in the towel as far as catching United was concerned. Asked if he felt third place, the target he had set his team, was now beyond them, he replied: "No, definitely not. It will be tough, very tough as United are the form team in Scotland at the moment. It's hard to pick up points in the SPL, but very difficult going into the split.

"We just have to keep digging in and see where it takes us."