Unirea Urziceni may be worth around 60 points in scrabble but Rangers managed to pick up only one against the little-known Romanian title holders on their way to finishing bottom of their Champions League group.

Attendances year-on-year at Celtic Park slumped, despite the appointment of the club’s former captain Tony Mowbray as their new manager, bringing with him a promise of free-flowing and entertaining football. On the pitch, the team looked more fallible than it had for years and a series of weak performances in the Europa League resulted in another early exit from continental competition, after they had earlier departed the Champions League in the final qualifying round.

European adventures for Motherwell, Falkirk, Aberdeen and Hearts were over before the postcards arrived back home due to a series of mostly abject performances; while a debate about what has gone wrong with the Scottish national team could go on for another 12 months before beginning to produce any meaningful answers.

But it wasn’t all bad news. While not quite an Annus mirabilis, the progress of Hibernian since the arrival of new manager John Hughes in the summer was one of the more positive stories of the year. Finishing sixth in the SPL last season, the club dispensed with Mixu Paatelainen and employed a former captain to fill their vacant managerial hot-seat. Available at 300/1 to win the title at the start of the season, those odds on Hibs were slashed to just 28/1 by one bookmaker last month after Hughes helped mastermind a 12-match unbeaten league run, taking his talented side to within touching distance of Rangers and Celtic.

At one point, his team even had the best defensive record in the whole of the UK and questions were beginning to be asked by some observers as to whether the men from Leith could become the first non-Old Firm team to win the Scottish Premier League title since Aberdeen in 1985.

No such public show of confidence was forthcoming from Easter Road, though, with club captain Chris Hogg regularly playing down the chances of even splitting Glasgow’s big two, let alone bettering them. The recent 4-1 defeat at home to Rangers emphatically reinforced Hogg’s sobering message.

And therein lies one of the secrets of Hibs’ progress, not just recently on the field but also for the past few years off it. The directors of the club have quietly walked the walk but at the same time have steadfastly refused to talk the talk. ‘Quiet people are well able to look after themselves’ says an old Irish proverb and certainly, the incumbents of the Easter Road boardroom appear to be a working example of such a theory.

“The executive team at this football club and the board see our roles as two-fold; we want to provide stability and we also wish to allow the manager and his team to do their jobs without making a song and dance about it,” chief executive Scott Lindsay told the Sunday Herald in his first major newspaper interview since taking over the role in April 2008.

“Ultimately what this football club is about is success on the park, so all our plans are geared around how we maximise the resources available for us to be able to put at our manager’s 
disposal. We want to be competing at the top end of the league, we want to be participating in European competition and we want to be winning cup competitions, so everything we do is governed by that and our ambition is to support our football manager.

“I think the single biggest achievement for us over the last few years was the opening of the training centre at East Mains in late 2007, giving us the ability to attract talent, both young players and experienced professionals.

“Yes, we’ve negotiated some turbulent times and we’ve had a couple of changes of manager, which of course we don’t want. Therefore stability is the one thing we crave at the football club both off and on the park and it’s the one thing that will deliver us long-term success both in a football sense and commercially.”

Being able to announce profits in the annual accounts is the goal for every business up and down the country, not only in football. Doing so for five years on the bounce, in a sport in which financial prosperity is notoriously difficult to achieve – more so in the commercially unfriendly environs of the Scottish game – is something worth shouting about, even from the peace and tranquillity of the Easter Road boardroom. And for Lindsay, whose background is in finance, that achievement is probably as important to him as a hat-trick against Hearts in this afternoon’s Edinburgh derby would be to Derek Riordan.

“We’re very proud of that,” he added. “It’s not easy to achieve, and this year is no exception. Obviously we plan to break even, or better if we possibly can, but I think five years of straight profit in football is exceptional. Looking backwards, though, is only good for one thing and that’s learning lessons.”

There is no doubt lessons have been learned at Hibernian, with the foundations of their current rude fiscal health laid almost nine years ago. Lindsay explained: “One of the reasons we’ve been able to achieve good figures is because we learned our lesson perhaps earlier than some others. In 2001, we put our foot on the brakes that little bit harder than some other clubs did. We put our faith and our resources into youth development and I think the decisions that were made back then are primarily what has allowed us to create the financial platform we’ve got today.

“We want to look forward and continue to make progress in an incremental way without taking risks that might lead us into a situation where our debts become unmanageable. The members of the board are here as the stewards of the football club; it will still be here long after we are gone so we need to make sure in the period we’re here leading the club that we provide direction and stability. As long as Hibernian Football Club continues to make progress then we’ll all be pleased.”

During the club’s annual general meeting in September 2007, the first seeds were sewn in preparation for the redevelopment of Easter Road when plans for a new east stand were announced. The development was then put on hold until sufficient cash resources were obtained to finance the project. However, with the cost of construction falling recently, the project is still a viable option and remains a work in progress.

“We would dearly like to complete the redevelopment of the stadium and we’re still working towards that,” said Lindsay. “We’ve recently been able to protect our position by satisfying the requirements of the planning consent and have activated that, so we’re now in a position where we can build an east stand and not be constrained by the February 2010 deadline that was in place. Admittedly, we don’t have all the funding in place right now to build a stand, however we think the market for construction has maybe come back towards us a little and we’re in the middle of doing a piece of work to test that market again and establish just what an up-to-date costing would be to complete the redevelopment. We need to see what happens when the prices come back, and that may take some time, but we’ll do things diligently and once we understand what it might cost then we need to determine when is the right time to do it, as well as getting the funding in place before we would go ahead with it.”

The return to Easter Road of prodigal son Riordan last season, plus the arrival of Anthony Stokes from Sunderland as well as former Celtic and Manchester United midfielder Liam Miller during the summer raised a few eyebrows in Scottish football, with many people wondering where the cash was coming from to fund such signings. Could it be the case that Hibs were dropping the prudent approach for which they have been previously praised? Not so, according to the club’s chief executive.

“What we’ve got right at this moment in time is a little bit of a cash cushion that’s been generated by the way the club’s been run. And we shouldn’t underestimate the benefit of that. Five years of consecutive profit has generated ‘positive’ cash and it’s been spent in a number of ways.

“Some of it has gone towards recruiting players – including paying transfer fees – some of it was spent reducing our debt and a big chunk of it was spent on building and paying for the training centre. After all the expenditure mentioned, we still had that small cash cushion and it’s probably allowed us to tweak how things have been running rather than take a machete to what we’re doing.

“We’re just gently amending how we’re going. The manager is the key to making the decisions as to whom he wants to bring to the club and he’s also vital in trying to convince those players 
that this is a good place to be. There are resources available to the manager; we’ve not changed anything about the way we operate. We’ve not changed direction in terms of the budgets 
we work with – it’s up to John how he spends that budget.”

Following last week’s comprehensive defeat to Rangers, the Ibrox side began the New Year 11 points clear of Hibs approaching the halfway stage of the season. Manager Hughes admits it is now a two-horse race for the title, as the club captain Hogg has insisted for a while, but the chief executive believes that while it might not happen in the short term, one day another SPL club could finish above the Old Firm.

“I think it can be done. It’s been done in the past; in fact not that long ago a club managed to separate the Old Firm. The reality is, however, that even through these difficult financial times the resources that Rangers and Celtic have available for their playing squad is significantly bigger than we have.”

If that sizeable advantage enjoyed by the Glasgow clubs is ever overcome and Hibernian are the beneficiaries, just don’t expect Scott Lindsay and his colleagues in the boardroom at Easter Road to be shouting from the rooftops.