Lee Johnson’s time in the Easter Road hot-seat has been something of a mixed bag thus far. His tenure has been interspersed with incidents of calamity and confusion; his reign is one of thrilling highs and maddening lows. From week to week, it feels, optimism turns to pessimism and vice-versa amongst the Easter Road faithful as the pendulum swings this way and that. Hibs have been, well, Hibs: consistently inconsistent.

At least, that has been the case for much of the season. But perhaps not anymore. Whisper it quietly, but this Hibernian team are starting to find form just when it matters most. Saturday’s triumph over Kilmarnock made it six league fixtures without defeat for Johnson’s side, who have now risen to fourth in the Premiership standings. Catching bitter rivals Hearts may be a step too far this term but the prospect of European football in Leith next season isn’t looking so distant all of a sudden.

It's a remarkable change in fortunes for a manager who just a matter of weeks ago was contesting ‘El Sackico’ (as Hibs’ meeting with Jim Goodwin’s dramatically out-of-form Aberdeen side was billed). In truth, the current upturn in form started prior to that decisive encounter at Easter Road and it isn’t difficult to pinpoint the reason as to why.

Johnson had a poor first half of the season at Hibs, of that there is no question. It all started, lest we forget, as Hibernian exited the League Cup at the group stage after inadvertently fielding the suspended Rocky Bushiri for their do-or-die final fixture at home to Morton. The game itself finished 1-1 with Dougie Imrie’s men claiming the bonus point from the penalty shoot-out and the Championship outfit were subsequently awarded a 3-0 walkover – but it’s worth pointing out that even without the authorities’ intervention, Hibs still would have crashed out of the cup.

The Herald:

The league campaign started in promising enough fashion before things took a dramatic turn in October. A 1-0 loss away to Dundee United at the start of the month signalled a dreadful run of results that Hibs didn’t truly shake off until the turn of the year. In 11 fixtures either side of the break for the World Cup, the Easter Road side lost nine and won the other two.

There is a degree of mitigation, however – and a rather sizeable one at that. Hibs’ recruitment process over the last year or so (at the very least) could best be described as scattergun and there is no doubt that some strange signings have been made. Momodou Bojang, the Ghanaian striker who joined on loan from Rainbow FC in his homeland before having his deal cut short in January, is Exhibit A but others such as Jair Tavares, brought in from Benfica’s B team in the summer, that haven’t exactly set the heather alight either.

However, Johnson has also been without the services of some of his most important players – ones that don’t exactly have like-for-like replacements, either. The players the Hibs manager has available to him will to some extent dictate the team’s style of play so it stands to reason that when they are absent, Johnson has had to adapt his instructions to the team.

Scotland internationalist Kevin Nisbet, Hibs’ focal point in attack, has been absent for almost all of Johnson’s stint in charge. Martin Boyle, the club’s talisman and unquestionably one of the best players in Scotland outside of the Old Firm (at least, he was before his doomed stint in Saudi Arabia), made an instant impact when providing a last-gasp equaliser in the first Edinburgh Derby of the season less than 24 hours after signing on the dotted line at Easter Road, but picked up a season-ending injury a third of the way through the campaign. Bushiri is out for a significant period of time after being stretchered off against Hearts last month. McGeady, a key addition from the summer, missed most of the first half of the season after damaging his ankle ligaments.

The Herald:

The former Celtic, Everton and Sunderland winger’s impact on the Hibs team cannot be understated. It is no coincidence that the recent six-game unbeaten run in the league began when McGeady was instated in the starting line-up. The 36-year-old may no longer possess the pace and acceleration that he once had but his ability to manipulate the ball in tight areas, bamboozle his opponents and deliver the final ball has been transformational for his team.

McGeady’s presence alone opens up space elsewhere for his team-mates and the attacking players are thriving as a result. Elie Youan has possibly been the biggest beneficiary and the Frenchman’s form has improved dramatically in recent weeks. It remains to be seen whether or not the striker can maintain it without McGeady’s help but we are likely to find out in the coming weeks after McGeady limped off against Killie at the weekend.

It is a crucial run of games that the former Republic of Ireland internationalist could well miss and they will tell us if this recent upturn in results is indeed just another false dawn or something more. A trip to Livingston awaits this weekend – never an easy venue to travel to – before Hibs face Rangers and Celtic. Such fixtures will test the resolve of Johnson’s men and if they can get through them with their position in fourth intact, Hibs will have an excellent chance of making it their own.

Johnson has not been dealt an easy hand at Hibernian. Injuries to key players have hampered the Englishman’s grand designs for his team, while the mid-season departure of Ryan Porteous, arguably Hibs’ best performer this term, has been far from ideal. It is only in the last few weeks that we have seen this team play as it was assembled to do so and the results have been impressive. It is now down to Johnson to show that his team can roll with the punches and overcome adversity when it presents itself and there is no better time to do so than right now. For better or worse, the next three games will be instructive – and they should show us just how good this Hibs team really are.