Hibs head to Dumfries on Saturday knowing that a victory would open up a gap between them and their hosts. For all of our credible performances this season only being three points ahead of Queens and a further two in front of Falkirk is being viewed as a negative in the stands, but have we really been poor or do the numbers stack up in our favour?
The Jambos have set a blistering pace and only clipping a few fences before a big fall at the last would see them lose their unassailable lead but what of the other runners and riders in what is sure to be an exciting end to the Championship season. Rangers, Hibs, Queen of the South and Falkirk all harbour the same ambition to be playing, next season, in the top league but who has what it takes to prevail come the finishing line?
A quick glance at the form tables, the scoring charts and the possession figures suggest that Hibernian will be the ones that prevail but that’s only at the first look, when we dissect these numbers the game becomes even more open.
Statistics can be used in a manner of different ways and your mind will likely digest this information and throw up a number of variables but from a Hibs perspective it embellishes the frustration that surrounds what has been a decent effort up so far from Alan Stubbs, his management team and the players.
Rangers, have won the most games when taking in to account the last 16 league fixtures of each club, gaining 32 points over that period. They have though lost double the amount of matches that Hibs have over that same duration.
Hibs’ dominance over Rangers in the two fixtures between the clubs has been startling yet Rangers’ form against the ‘smaller’ clubs in the league has been, Alloa apart, exemplary. This is the main reason why they currently sit clear in second place with a game in hand over Hibs and Falkirk.
When playing against Hibs, Falkirk and Queen of the South though Rangers concede 46% of shots on their goal with 11 of the 24 shots on target culminating in a goal scored. Hibs profiting the most with six points from six and seven goals in to the bargain. On the flip side Falkirk have yet to score against their Ibrox counterparts, when on league business, despite Rangers being so forgiving when defending their area thus handing a slight advantage to Stubbs’ men.
Falkirk and Queen of the South boast identical records during their last 16 games winning seven, drawing six and losing four. Rory Loy’s penalty miss, for Falkirk, at home to Queens last week could prove costly when it comes to the end of season play offs.
Falkirk are the team to watch if you want to see goalscoring opportunities and the ball hitting the back of the net. This is backed up by them conceding 33% of the 42 shots on their goal in 8 matches between the play off hopefuls. They create several chances for themselves as well but will be disappointed in only scoring close to one in every five shots on their opposition’s goal.
This disappointment will be tempered slightly by the fact that five of their seven goals, in these fixtures, have come against the Hibees earning them a very valuable seven points. They’ve played Hibs three times winning two and earning a fantastic point having come from two goals down in the latest encounter at Easter Road. Hibs have amassed an average of 57.67% possession when facing Falkirk and have failed to score in two of those games, despite having 17 shots on Jamie McDonald’s goal over the three matches in question.
Falkirk have Hibs and Queen of the South to play once more but face Rangers home and away before the seasons out and you would think that they will need to significantly improve on their goal tally against the Glasgow club if they are to appear in the play offs, at least, ahead of ourselves.
Queen of the South, who have a game in hand on their nearest challengers, rescued a point from their match at Falkirk last week, despite having centre half Andy Durnan sent off. The point gained could prove crucial when it comes to separating the clubs at the end of the season.
Queens have only lost four times in their last 16 and will prove a stern test for the visiting Hibees. They are unbeaten in the two games they’ve played winning at home and drawing at Easter Road. Their performance in Edinburgh was solid if unspectacular but gained Queens a very valuable point.
When drawing a conclusion I looked towards their two games against Hibs and Hearts, as they visited the capital twice within the space of three weeks. Against Hibs they sat in with two banks of four frustrating the Hibs attack and limiting us to only four shots on target in the whole game on the other hand Queens created very little and had zero shots on target themselves.
Three weeks later and their visit to Tynecastle saw them receive praise for the way they performed. Attacking Hearts at every opportunity they utilised their 47% possession (compared to only 44% three weeks previous) forcing Hearts on to the back foot slightly more than they did against us at Easter Road. They created five great goalscoring opportunities, they may have only took one but why the change in tactics?
Well Hearts, in Queens’ mind, are probably out of sight but their positive results against ourselves – four points from six – give more credence to their more defensive tactics. Why open up against an opponent that could not only hurt you in terms of the result but also in terms of reaching their ultimate goal. It may not be aesthetically pleasing to a supporters eye but football now, whether we like it or not is a results driven business.
Promotion brings with it much-needed financial gain and shutting up shop against your nearest rivals, protecting what you have and earning the right to claim the prizes is now a concept that is understood yet, for me, an under appreciated part of the modern game. I will be watching with interest though to see if they are slightly more adventurous this time around.
No doubting they have players who can hurt teams Russell, Carmichael and Reilly all impressing this season in forward areas but perhaps it’s their defensive side that is most impressive. In seven games against Rangers, Hibs and Falkirk they’ve conceded only six goals. They do allow teams opportunities with 31 strikes on their goal in these matches but they can give credit to their back line and goalkeepers Clark and Atkinson when they have only conceded 19% of these attempts.
It’s that defensive quality that we will need to breach on Saturday. Hibs may have scored five goals last time out but it is their profligacy in front of goal which is costing them dear in matches against Falkirk and Queen of the South.
Winning 30 points from their last 16 and losing only twice the players should be travelling down to Dumfries in buoyant mood ahead of what is an eagerly anticipated encounter.
Although scoring only 29% of their shots on target, not even registering in the two games against Queen of the South will mean the players are wary of their opponents and the need to punish them when the chance arises.
Hibs are, minus the Falkirk blip, also very tight at the back. The returning Jordon Forster will only help to make us stronger in defence. We’ve conceded only 7 goals against the teams around us and when you consider three of them were against the Bairns only last week its clear that our problems lie more in finishing teams off rather than leaking soft goals.
Scoring only one in three chances when dominating games (an average of 54.43% possession against the three other play off hopefuls) only fuels the frustration felt around the club.
We have also drawn far too many games, six in the last 16 – turn 4 of them in to wins and that is title-winning form. Alas we must keep moving forward and to do so we must take confidence from the results against Rangers and Hearts, the runaway leaders.
In five games we’ve lost just once, narrowly in the first derby of the season before going on to take eight points from a possible 15. Scoring 10 goals in to the bargain.
This shows the players are capable, we are playing a brand of football that is beginning to excite week in week out and slowly but surely we are climbing our way up this league. Saturday is one of those games where we’ll truly see how far we’ve come.
Palmerston is not an easy place to go indeed only two clubs (Hearts and Cowdenbeath) have won there this season, on league business. Losing only seven points at home all season, Livingston managed to take a point from their game back in August, means the Hibees will have their work cut out. Queens have also only failed to score in one match at home this season against Hearts, in the 3-0 reverse in early October.
Consistency is the key to the promised land. If Hibs can do what Rangers and Falkirk have failed to do and take all three points away from Palmerston’s Plastic Park then that would surely be a big boost for the Edinburgh club and hopefully the springboard to an exciting end to a race which for the Hibees started slowly, faltered somewhat and has, of late, began to pick up more of a promising pace.