When Paul Heckingbottom took over at Hibs, they were in eighth. Now they are heading towards the first round of fixtures in the split and the Easter Road outfit are in the top six. It’s a fantastic achievement as the Heckingbottom renaissance continues.
The highlight was their first Tynecastle victory in six years against Hearts in the Edinburgh Derby. It gives them another boost ahead of Sunday’s clash against former boss Neil Lennon’s Celtic.
There are plenty of things to point towards when it comes to what sparked this change in fortune. Whether that’s Marc McNulty’s arrival or Heckingbottom’s tactics, everything seems to be clicking for Hibs right now.
Here are three key factors which have contributed to the Hibees entering the race for Europe.
The chopping and changing of old has gone under Heckingbottom. The former Leeds United boss likes to field the same XI on a weekly basis, something which has aided the Hibees cause.
A large portion of his squad have played every minute under his tenure. This has allowed for players to get to know each other better, aiding each other’s play in the process. The saying ‘if it’s not broke, don’t fix it’ seems to work wonders for Heckingbottom.
It’s something the squad didn’t have under Lennon earlier this season due to injuries. Paul Hanlon and David Gray are just two examples of players who were out on the sidelines, but now play every week.
It’s no coincidence that these types of players playing on a regular basis has resulted in Hibs not losing a league game under Heckingbottom.
A key factor that may go under the radar, the team is finely balanced. Every single player know what is expected of them. Even when their manager changes things up during the game, players are well aware of their role on the park.
The defence is experienced and strong. They have dealt with many of the best Premiership forwards like Alfredo Morelos and Uche Ikpeazu with ease. The midfield has one attacking force in Stevie Mallan and defensive assurance in Mark Milligan.
Mallan is able to link play to the forwards with class. Milligan isn’t spectacular, but his job of guarding the back four is vital to Hibs’ success. Daryl Horgan and Stephane Omeonga are able to run the channels all day in the winger positions. McNulty is a creative forward with an eye for goal, with Florian Kamberi able to be the physical presence up top.
All of this makes the team finely tuned and balance. It gives Heckingbottom’s side the perfect blend of everything.
With good results comes confidence. This is something that had escaped Hibs in the final months of Lennon’s reign, with just three wins in their final 17 games under the Celtic boss.
Now Heckingbottom has got them firing on all cylinders, things seem to click. Players like Kamberi have been reborn under the Englishman, with a new lease of life being injected into them.
The comeback victory over Hearts highlighted their new found confidence. There is an inner belief now that when things go wrong they can still be fixed. Players now believe in their own ability. Every single player seems to be coming into their best patch of form all at the one time.
It’s a credit to the squad they are playing so well. This looked set to be a massively disappointing season for the Hibees. Given where they were just a few months ago, it can only be considered a success.
This form should give them even more confidence heading into next season.