Shaun Maloney has challenged teenage striker Elias Melkersen to build on last weekend’s exploits against Motherwell by helping fire Hibernian into Europe.
The Easter Road side have lacked goals in recent months, with Martin Boyle sold to Saudi Arabian side Al-Faisaly in January, Kevin Nisbet suffering a long-term injury and Christian Doidge struggling for form since his own return from a long lay-off.
However, 19-year-old Melkersen, who moved to Easter Road from Bodo/Glimt in January, marked his first start by scoring a double in a 2-1 Scottish Cup quarter-final win at Fir Park last Sunday.
Maloney knows it is asking a lot to expect a teenager to be their main source of goals, but the situation necessitates that more pressure will be placed on the young Norwegian’s shoulders as Hibs bid to secure a top-six spot in the cinch Premiership over the next three games before attempting to push on for the top four.
“Elias can take great satisfaction from what he did against Motherwell, but that was last week. He has to go again this week,” said Maloney ahead of Saturday’s trip to Aberdeen. “We’re having to rely very heavily on a young boy.
“I think he’s got the right character to carry that responsibility, but as a really young player he will have games like Motherwell but also games where he is less successful.
“That’s what happens with young players, they might not have that consistency, but Elias has a really strong mentality. He’s worked really hard this week. He’s one of the first to arrive and the last to leave and that hasn’t changed since the Motherwell game.”
Hibernian are currently fourth in the Premiership but are one of six sides separated by just one point in the middle section of the table. With just three games before the split, a form dip in the next couple of weeks could cost them a chance at European football next term.
“It’s intense,” said Maloney. “Every game feels huge. There are five or six teams now really fighting for the top six and then after that the top four. The top four for any club would be huge because it gets you into the qualifying rounds. We know what we want to do, but we have to go and do it.”
Maloney, who hopes to welcome captain Paul Hanlon back this weekend after injury, is putting next month’s Scottish Cup semi-final against city rivals Hearts firmly on the back-burner while he focuses on securing a top-six berth.
“We’ve got an amazing match to come at Hampden but there are big games before that, starting with Aberdeen,” said the manager.
“Last week’s result has given everyone a good lift. They were in a good place before, but it was such a big match and the performance was good, so it’s certainly good for the confidence of the players. They should take that forward and keep pushing.”