The pain of the aggregate 9-0 Europa League defeat to Malmo is gradually easing, the pressure on manager Pat Fenlon all but alleviated. Tuesday's 5-3 Scottish League Cup victory over Stranraer was not wholly convincing but the win extended Hibs' unbeaten stretch to six matches and earned them a place in the quarter-finals. With Celtic and Rangers both out of the competition, the Easter Road side now have a genuine chance of lifting the trophy for the first time since 2007.
A sense of equanimity has served Hibs well. Having refused to buckle after opening the campaign with four successive defeats, they are also not getting carried away now that the tide seems to have turned. Results have carried Fenlon's side up to fifth in the SPFL Premiership table but with that improvement comes an acknowledgment that they could soon find themselves sliding back down the way if they were to become complacent.
"We are not going to get carried away because we never got carried away when we were losing games at the start of the season and it's the same now," said midfielder Liam Craig. "We have won a few but they are in the past now and we have three or four big games coming up, with Inverness [Caledonian Thistle] and Partick [Thistle] away and then Aberdeen and Celtic at home. After that we will have a better idea of where we are in the league."
Only two months have passed since that Malmo debacle but for Hibs fans and players it already feels like a lifetime ago. Craig credits the management team for keeping spirits high during a turbulent period. "Jimmy [Nicholl, assistant manager] and the manager have been excellent in the way they have dealt with the players and dealt with training in the early part of the season when we weren't getting results and we weren't scoring goals," he added. "They kept the place bubbly, kept the boys up and we are getting our rewards now for all the hard work we have put in in training and the work they have put in as well. If we are going to be successful this year then it's going to take the squad to be playing well."
Craig, signed in the summer from St Johnstone, has made an immediate impact. His two goals against Kilmarnock last month secured Hibs' first win of the season, while on Wednesday he registered the first hat trick of his senior career. "I'm delighted on a personal note," said the 26 year-old. "The third was also my 50th career goal as well so I'm delighted to get the goals but the most important thing is that we're in the next round of the cup. I put pressure on myself to get goals from midfield and getting the two down at Kilmarnock earlier in the season gave me the confidence. Now the team is playing so well going forward, we have players who are always going to create chances. So, I know I'm going to get chances in this team because I have good players round about me and it's important when I get into those areas that I score goals."
Craig felt that Hibs now have a goal threat throughout the team. "Even at the back, James McPake, Paul Hanlon and big Michael Nelson, are all threats at set pieces. And then you look in the midfield, Robbo [Scott Robertson] has already scored, myself, [Abdellah] Zoubir, I think we have goals in us and there's Alex Harris and Danny Handling, who aren't even in the squad and they have goals in them. Then there are the strikers, so there are goals in the team and it's just nice that we are taking the chances."
Hibs made heavy weather of beating Stranraer. They fell behind in the fourth minute, recovered to go 4-1 ahead before seeing that lead reduced to 4-3. Craig's penalty eased any fears of a cup shock but the former Falkirk player admitted it was closer than it needed to be.
"We said at half-time when we were 3-1 up that if we could get the next goal then it should be the end of the game and it should've been. We were disappointed with the manner in which we started the game and then the way we let them back into it but in the cup it is just about getting into the next round. Fair play to Stranraer, they came and had a real go and not just the three goals, they had other chances to score as well but so did we. I think over the piece we deserved it but we could have made it easier for ourselves."