Hibernian

Hibernian: April will be pivotal to Heckingbottom’s unexpected Europa League chase

Hibernian: April will be pivotal to Heckingbottom’s unexpected Europa League chase

When Paul Heckingbottom took over at Easter Road in February, he inherited a side that languished in eighth place in the table, some 12 points behind then third-placed Aberdeen.

If anyone had said at that time, that Hibs would go into the fixture split with an outside chance of claiming a Europa League spot, they would have been laughed at.

Such has been the effect the new boss has had, everyone associated with the club are riding the crest of a wave, and with a derby win over Hearts in their back pocket, Hibs fans are strarting to believe.

At the very least, they will now have a realistic expectation of finishing as Edinburgh’s top team, but with a good finish, anything could be possible.

29-year-old stalwart, Paul Hanlon, is Hibs through-and-through. A one club player — but for a brief month on loan at St Johnstone in 2008 — and he admitted that the club were drifting towards a lower half finish before Heckingbottom’s arrival, and he insisted people had “written us off” when talking of the top six.

But now, having achieved that goal as a minimum, his sights are set much higher.

He told the Edinburgh News: “If you go back to just before the manager came in, everybody had written us off as far as making the top six.

“It was always going to be a big ask, so to show the form we have done is great. We now have to try and keep it going and see where we finish.

“It has been a massive turnaround. It is exciting and it is what you want at this stage of the season.”

Certainly, with the remaining fixtures now announced, the rest of April will be hugely significant to their European ambitions.

With Hearts now in their rear-view mirror, focus shifts to the two sides above them — Kilmarnock and Aberdeen — who both also harbour aspirations of a third-placed finish.

With their two rivals playing each other when the SPFL resumes after this weekend’s break for the Scottish Cup Semi-Finals, Hibs have the unenviable task of trying to prolong the wait for Celtic’s title-winning party, and hope that they can get one over on Heckingbottom’s predecessor in the Hibs hot-seat, Neil Lennon.

Should they do so, it would see them close the gap on at least one of those above them, and with April’s last round of fixtures seeing the small matter of the final Edinburgh derby of the season — at Easter Road this time — with Kilmarnock and Aberdeen visiting the top two, Celtic and Rangers respectively, they could go into May, just three points behind third, at worst.

There are lots of ifs and buts in there, of course, but with the run Hibs have been on since Heckingbottom arrived, and confidence at a massive high, why shouldn’t the fans dream of what might be.

It would be the happily-ever-after ending, to what has already been, a fairy-tale couple of months for the green half of Edinburgh.

What do you think if your Europa League hopes, Hibs fans? Are they realistic, or would you settle for finishing above your Edinburgh neighbours? Let us know your opinion, and join in the debate below…

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