Under new manager Paul Heckingbottom, Hibernian have dragged themselves back up the league table. They once looked likely to finish bottom six. Now Hibs have accelerated into the race for Europe.
Yet to lose under their new boss in the league, the Hibees deserves huge credit for bouncing back very effectively from early season struggles. Whilst it could be said they haven’t had many tough challenges yet, the Easter Road side have looked a far better side than they did earlier this campaign.
The likes of Marc McNulty and Florian Kamberi will grab the headlines, and they should have some of them. Their impact has been great and they have spearheaded the Hibees’ attacking efforts during the resurgence in form at Easter Road.
Defence, however, is where a lot of the credit lies with. Heckingbottom’s men have looked solid at the back. They have only conceded from open play twice in their past five league games and deserve praise for their performances as of late.
Consistency is key
In the first month of the year Hibs lost two key defenders. Ryan Porteous was lost to injury and Efe Ambrose left the club for pastures new all within the month of January.
Constant chopping and changes of formation and personnel occurred under Neil Lennon. The Hibees were never able to get a settled defensive guard. They have got one now, and although they have a combined age of 123, they’re showing there is life in the old dogs yet.
David Gray, Paul Hanlon, Darren McGregor and Lewis Stevenson have been the regular Hibs defence since Heckingbottom came to town. Gray, Hanlon and Stevenson have played every game since the former Leeds manager’s arrival. McGregor has only missed one due to suspension.
Before January, all four struggled for regular game time. Whether that was with injury or just not getting into the first team, many fans at Easter Road wondered whether the time was up for these hugely popular figures.
It would’ve been end of an era stuff to see them go. All four of them played in the 2016 Scottish Cup win that broke 114 years of pain. Gray was especially pivotal in this. It was Liam Henderson to deliver and Hibs fans know the rest.
When key defenders Ambrose and Porteous were out of the squad it was up to the veterans to step up and deliver. They have done that and more, playing big parts and gaining crucial points for the Hibees.
Not just in defence have they done that, but attack also. Gray and Hanlon have netted match winners against Livingston and Motherwell within the past three games. The four of them together though have proved they are still well worth their place in the starting XI.
As the race for Europe heats up, defence will be key to make sure Hibs have a chance of claiming that third spot. The back four will need to keep the performance levels up ahead of six crucial games for the Hibees.