Hibs are aiming high insists Jamie Murphy as they look to put derby misery behind them
It’s rare to see anyone separate Celtic and Rangers at the top of the league table but Hibs will be looking to nudge their way past the defending champions tonight.
Aware that any advantage over Neil Lennon’s men could prove fleeting, with the Glasgow side playing Motherwell on Sunday, and with another game in hand beyond that, such manoeuvring would still be a signal of intent.
Still smarting from the Scottish Cup semi-final defeat at the hands of city neighbours Hearts last weekend, they turn their attention back to Premiership business at Pittodrie this evening.
A blinkered approach sees them focus primarily on the three points available but there are plenty of incentives. For an ambitious club, with players who have experienced the loftier realms of the game and are desperate for more, few are as appealing as the opportunity to mix things up, in among the big two.
Whether they can muscle their way into that company, and repel subsequent attempts to then eject them is for others to debate, according to winger Jamie Murphy. But he does want to bounce back swiftly and confidently from the derby disappointment.
“Nobody really knows, and we just take it one game at a time. Wherever we end up at the end of the season is where we’ll end up.
“We just go into every game trying to win it and we’ll see where it takes us.”
Pushing for second best
Since the turn of the century, there have been only three occasions when other clubs have managed to challenge the duopoly at the hilt of Scottish football’s top tier. Hearts were the meat in the sandwich in 2005/06, while Aberdeen managed it in 2016/17 and 2017/18. The latter were Rangers’ first two season’s back in the Premiership and since they regained a foothold, it has proved far more difficult for the clubs outside Glasgow to stake a claim for anything other than the title ‘best of the rest’.
Aberdeen’s consistency in recent years has proved the benchmark for others, such as Hibs, and while they are looking up, they remain acutely aware that Derek McInnes’ team will be harbouring their own ambitions and their presence, nestled just in behind the Leith side, in fourth place, is a great way of focusing minds.
The Dons are one of only two clubs to beat Jack Ross’ men on league business this term, and a repeat of that feat would not only scupper Hibs’ immediate hopes of moving up the standings, it would see them compound the misery of last weekend, dropping down the rankings and switching places with one of their main rivals.
Big game regardless
“If the semi-final hadn’t happened and we were playing this game it would have been just as important,” explained Murphy, who came on as a 54th minute substitute the last time the sides met. “But, obviously, coming off a defeat you want to win even more.
“It takes a couple of days [to get over a loss of that magnitude]. It’s not one of those games where it’s forgotten about the night of. It takes maybe a day or two to try to get it out of the system and move on, and get back out onto the training pitch and start thinking ahead.
“We did that early on in the week and the last few days’ training have been very good. Everyone’s ready to go.
“I’m a bit more experienced and I’ve been through cup semi-finals and final losses like that before, so it’s probably a bit easier for me to try to move on. But for some of the boys that was the first big defeat of their careers. You need to be there for them and try to lift them and help them.”
Also losing out at the semi-final stage, Aberdeen will be seeking their own pick-me-up.
“They’re one of our rivals up there at the top of the table so it’s a big game for everyone.
“They’re a good side. I think you’ve always got to be prepared for that every season and they’re going to do what they do. They’re well organised and they’re good going forward, and it’s up to us to stop them and try to do what we do and score some goals.”
Support for team mate
Key to that will be Murphy, whose presence imbues the side with greater creativity and nous. Working to get match fit since his arrival at the club, he suffered a minor hamstring setback but returned to the starting line up last weekend and is now desperate to have a sustained run of games.
Like Martin Boyle on the opposite flank, he knows the way to goal himself but can also help keep the supply lines to forwards Christian Doidge and Kevin Nisbet open.
The latter revealed this week that he has been dealing with his dad’s terminal illness since arriving at Hibs and told of his devastating loss in the build up to that semi final. He then missed a crucial penalty. But Murphy says everyone at the club is looking out for the 23-year-old who remains the side’s leading scorer with eight goals in 14 games, despite the personal trauma.
“He’s been ok, he’s trained well,” said Murphy, who feels he has a guiding role to play as one of the older players in the team. “We were all thinking about him and his family after a tough week last week. We’re all right there behind him, supporting him.
“He’s been great for us, coming from the league below up to the Premiership and fitting in straight away and scoring goals. It’s a hard, hard thing to do but I am sure he will be great for us the rest of the season as well. Last weekend’s penalty was a little blip but we all know he’ll bounce back.”
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