JANUARY was always going to be the most important month of Hibernian's season.
For all that the bright days of September enabled them to forge a path to the upper echelons of the Clydesdale Bank Premier League, the success or otherwise of the Easter Road club in extending loan agreements for three key performers this month would dictate how the second half of the campaign would unfold.
So the news yesterday that both Leigh Griffiths and Ryan McGivern would remain in Edinburgh until the end of the season was greeted with excitement as well as relief by Hibernian supporters. The 14 goals scored by striker Griffiths have been pivotal; so, too, has the resolve left-back McGivern has brought to a previously porous defence. All Pat Fenlon has to do now is secure agreement with Honduran club Motagua to prolong midfielder Jorge Claros' loan and his January will have elapsed just as he hoped.
The Griffiths deal came as Wolverhampton Wanderers, his parent club, announced they have the option to extend his contract by a further year when his deal expires in May. For the player, that simply caps what has already been an enjoyable few months. "This season has been the most enjoyable of my career so far and I'm really pleased to be staying at Hibs," Griffiths said. "I've been playing for the team I support and scoring goals to help the club challenge near the top of the table. Now the loan deal has been extended I can focus on my football and repay the club and the manager for continuing to show their faith in me."
Certainly, the events of recent days have fulfilled Griffiths' desires, even if his delight may be tempered if Vincent Lunny, the Scottish Football Association's compliance officer, opts to act over allegations that the 22-year-old racially abused a fellow user on Twitter last week. It is understood Lunny is examining whether any rules were breached, while Fenlon is expected to disclose today if the striker will be available for selection against Dundee this weekend after being subject to internal disciplinary proceedings.
Regardless, the Hibs manager is delighted to have both players at his disposal. "Both Leigh and Ryan have made massive contributions," the Irishman said. "We've already said that we would do everything we could to keep them at Hibernian and fortunately all that hard work has come to fruition. This news gives everybody connected to the club a boost."
McGivern, meanwhile, who has proved to be a solid left-back and effective centre-half since moving north from Manchester City, said: "Ever since I moved here, I've felt part of the club and I'm really pleased to be able to stay until the end of the season. I've been playing regular football which was my main aim and I believe I've learned a huge amount since August. The fans have been brilliant towards me and now I want to help the team build on our encouraging start to the season."