The club's rise under Pat Fenlon this season offers a positive narrative to the SPL and the Scottish Cup is a legitimate target
Hibernian's recent spell in the doldrums makes it entirely legitimate that they should revel in their current top position in the Scottish Premier League. Few, even at Easter Road, could reasonably have foreseen such a scenario unfolding in mid-November.
The fact that Hibs are prominent while their oldest foes, Hearts, are facing up to a battle for survival only increases what elements of glee exist among Edinburgh's green half. Curiously, it is rare in this era for both Hibs and Hearts to enjoy success at the same time.
The blunt reality is that, barring something extraordinary, this Hibernian team will not claim the SPL title. Nor come close. It would still be impressive were they to finish within 20 points of Celtic by the close of the season. Those snippy about such a prediction should bear in mind the context of the last campaign: Hibs were 60 points adrift of the champions.
Nevertheless their rise under Pat Fenlon this season is already worthy of immense credit and offers a fresh, positive narrative to the league. It also highlights what opportunities are available to teams previously regarded as also-rans since Rangers left the top flight.
A return to Europe for Hibernian, for example, is now a legitimate goal and one that should excite their supporters. Too often those fans have endured scraps of another kind, near the bottom of the league, almost as a cruel irony against the backdrop of the fine work done to rebuild Easter Road. For too long, Hibernian's reputation was for producing and selling young players rather than offering a competitive first team. Not so long ago, fans were making clear their discontent about the running of the club.
After a slow start Fenlon has quelled such rumblings and lived up to the kind of promise he demonstrated in spells when in charge of teams in Ireland. His greatest achievement has been to instil a mental toughness to a side that was previously regarded as a soft touch. That was never more apparent than in May when Hibs were demolished by Hearts in the Scottish Cup final at Hampden Park. Hearts rightly gained plaudits for their showing on that historic occasion but the capitulation of their opponents was embarrassing for many onlookers. In Hibernian's case, that hadn't been an isolated incident, something Fenlon acknowledged at the time. Crucially he has made inroads in doing something about it.
An indication of Fenlon's subsequent work came at Celtic Park in September. Twice, Hibs pegged Celtic back to claim the kind of point they would not have earned last season. Including that fixture, Hibs have tasted defeat only twice in their past nine SPL outings. Crowds are not yet flocking back to Easter Road but the regular appearance of 10,000-plus attendances represents progress, at least, which Fenlon will hope to continue. Given their supporter base, a strong Hibs offers an obvious wider financial benefit.
They can also take credit for the fielding of Scotland's most prolific centre-forward. Leigh Griffiths has scored 12 goals in as many league outings – and seven in his last five – in showing the kind of form which deservedly handed him a Scotland call-up for the friendly in Luxembourg. It seemed ludicrous that Griffiths had to wait for call-ups before receiving that recognition.
Given how tight the bulk of the SPL now is, a player of Griffiths's scoring calibre would be welcomed anywhere outside of Celtic. Hibernian's main issue in the coming weeks is extending the player's loan deal from Wolves and convincing Griffiths he would be best served spending more time in Edinburgh, amid inevitable interest from elsewhere. Fenlon's recruitment of Paul Cairney from Partick Thistle has provided the perfect supply line to Griffiths. Hibs have not just been winning matches, they have played some decent football in the process, scoring 25 times in 13 games.
Ironically their supporters have their eyes firmly fixed on a Scottish Cup tie rather than a SPL fixture in the coming weeks. There will be an immediate chance for minor retribution towards Hearts, with the pair drawn to meet in the fourth round of this season's competition. Hibs have not won the Scottish Cup since 1902; ending that run would afford Fenlon legendary status at Easter Road. For now, the manager simply has cause to be content with clear improvement.