SONS 24: HIBERNIAN

Friday 5th August 2016

AS part of Sons 24, we are taking an in-depth look at the nine teams who stand between Dumbarton and the points they need to achieve their goal this season.

Hibernian are the subject of part seven. Relegated into the Championship in 2014 by play-off defeat to Hamilton Accies, few could have envisaged the Easter Road side’s stay in the second tier lasting into a third season. However, further play-off disappointments against Rangers in 2015, and Falkirk last year, means that they are having to plot another push to get back into the top flight. It has not been an entirely unsuccessful stay in the Championship, though – winning last season’s Scottish Cup shows that there is something special about a Hibs side who once again will be tough to defeat.

Please note that the views in this article are not necessarily those of Dumbarton FC, its board or any staff.

Dumbarton v Hibernian: Saturday, September 10 and Saturday, January 14

Hibernian v Dumbarton: Saturday, December 10 and Saturday, March 18

Last season’s meetings with Dumbarton: SPFL Championship unless stated –

Saturday, August 8 2015 – Dumbarton 2 Hibernian 1
Saturday, October 17 2015 – Hibernian 4 Dumbarton 2
Saturday, February 27 2016 – Dumbarton 3 Hibernian 2
Tuesday, April 26 2016 – Hibernian 4 Dumbarton 0

Season 2016/17 so far: Europa League –

Thursday, July 14 2016 – Hibernian 0 Brondby 1 (QR2, L1)
Thursday, July 21 2016 – Brondby 0 Hibernian 1 (lost on penalties, QR2, L2)

Signings: Grant Holt (striker, Rochdale); Ross Laidlaw (goalkeeper, Raith Rovers); Ofir Marciano (goalkeeper, FC Ashdod, loan).

First four league games: Falkirk (A); Dunfermline Athletic (H); St Mirren (A); Morton (H).

The run-in (last four league games): Queen of the South (H); Raith Rovers (H); Ayr United (A); St Mirren (H).

Analysis: They were highly unlucky to go out of Europe, they are defending the Scottish Cup, they have a manager who four years ago was beating Barcelona in the Champions League and they have a midfielder who was man of the match on his full Scotland debut. So just what are Hibernian doing planning for a third season in Scotland’s second tier?

There may not be many at Easter Road who would have swapped the outcomes of league and cup at the end of last season. Would they rather have beaten Falkirk, and then slogged it out with Kilmarnock over two further matches at the end of what had already been a long and demanding season? Or would they have preferred David Gray’s injury time header which defeated Rangers in the Scottish Cup final? The one which ended a 114-year wait for the trophy to come to Leith, and also a 79-year wait for a team to win it from outside the top flight? And even if they were in the Championship for a third season, they’d be favourites to win it.

Of the cup final-winning team, only keeper Conrad Logan and striker Anthony Stokes have left the club, along with substitute Liam Henderson, whose loan from Celtic has expired. Another keeper, Mark Oxley, is also now off the books, with Ross Laidlaw and Ofir Marciano now set to battle for the starting gloves. As well as now fully-capped Scotland midfielder John McGinn, other potential top flight players like Jason Cummings and cup-winning goalscorer Gray are still around – indeed, Cummings has recently signed a new contract. However, over the close season, it has been the managerial position at Easter Road which has generated huge interest.

Winner of three league titles and two Scottish Cups as Celtic manager, Neil Lennon’s move to replace Alan Stubbs may be viewed by some as a step down. However, it is a statement of intent by Hibernian, whose desire to get back into the top division must not be underestimated. Despite an unsuccessful spell as manager of Bolton Wanderers, Lennon’s experience of success in Scottish football with Celtic made him stand out among all the names mentioned when Stubbs left for Rotherham United.

His biggest task will be to cut out the shock results which befell Stubbs last season and ultimately resulted in Hibs’ failure to stay in touch with Rangers as the campaign went on. Some may argue that those include the away matches at Dumbarton – a venue where Hibs failed to take a single point last season. Sons, of course, will argue that those were two days where they stepped up to the plate and delivered results that will be talked about in G82 for a long time. That won’t wash with Hibernian, though – and nor would any repeat of a sequence in February and March where they were winless in seven league outings. In the early part of the season it looked as if they would push Rangers hard, despite back-to-back opening away defeats at Dumbarton and Ibrox. This season will not just be about repeating that start – it will be about extending it.

The run-in is kind to Hibernian, and their opening fixture at Falkirk tomorrow affords a chance to put a marker down. The Falkirk Stadium was the venue where their promotion aspirations ended in injury time agony last season. If they can return there and show superiority, then even after 90 minutes they could be hard to match.

Verdict: They’ve been tipped for success in each of their previous two seasons in the Championship but with Rangers now gone, this really has to be Hibernian’s chance to strike for honours. They will have to work all the way but they have to be considered frontrunners for the title.

Join the debate @dumbartonfc and #sons24

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