Shaun Maloney claims he knows exactly what it takes to make Hibernian “much, much better” after back-to-back losses to Hearts ruined his season ambitions.
Maloney was much more pleased with his team’s performance at Hampden than he had been at Tynecastle seven days earlier, but the result was similar.
After a 3-1 loss in the Edinburgh derby consigned them to the bottom six, 10-man Hibs lost 2-1 in the Scottish Cup semi-finals to end any hopes of a European place and a third consecutive cup final.
Hibs showed struggle after going behind excellent strikes from Ellis Simms and Stephen Kingsley by striking back immediately through Chris Cadden and then pushing Hearts all the way, even after Joe Newell’s second yellow card in the 65th minute.
Only a superb save by Craig Gordon to avoid a Ryan Porteous header, which the keeper pushed into the post, prevented Hibs from forcing extra time, but the loss spelled the end of a disappointing first chapter in Maloney’s managerial career.
Maloney has been without a full squad of players through injury, illness and suspension at times, but fans expected much more after he opened his Hibs career with back-to-back wins over Aberdeen and Dundee United.
Hibs only recorded one league win in 2022 and entered the division 19 points behind Hearts.
Maloney said: “I know exactly where the team is, where the team is. I know exactly what we need to compete with Hearts
“What you saw on Saturday was, in my opinion, a more dominant performance. What Hearts has, and you have to give them credit, is a very strong team, they have a lot of experience at this level and above. Unfortunately, you saw Craig make an incredible save. That’s what happens with players at that level.
“We’ve got a little bit to go, and that’s my job. But literally since February 1, that’s been on my mind.
“I know exactly what we need to get to a point where we can consistently outperform teams above us. That is going to be vital for the next few weeks.
“At the beginning of the season, we have to remember how we feel now and make sure it doesn’t happen again next season.
“It hurts a lot, and last week. I think in the last three or four months there have been signs of progress. There have been times when progress seems to have stalled.
“This doesn’t feel like that at all. This was by far the best performance I’ve ever had.
“I have known for a long time the areas where we need to improve to have a chance to fight for the top six, the top four in Europe. I have known it from very early.
“I have worked very hard with the players that we have, young players, but we all have to make sure that in the summer, in the pre-season, we are much stronger in certain areas, so that when we have performances like this, we take advantage.
“The money that we have, we have to spend wisely this summer, and we have to be very, very different at the start of next season.”
Hibs now face five low-profile league games, unless they repeat the mistakes of 2014 and get dragged into a relegation play-off battle.
Maloney said: “I understand it’s a tough situation in terms of not being in the top six, but we have to bring the level of performance and intensity that we got in Hampden into every game. That has to be the culture that we establish.
“Part of the problem this season has been that not all levels of performance, desire and intensity have been at this level.
“No matter which opponent we play in the next five games, next season, we have to deliver the same level of performance.
“And if we do that, and we add the right level of player, then we’re going to be a lot stronger next season.”