Shaun Maloney claims he knows precisely what is needed to make Hibernian a “lot, lot better” after two consecutive defeats by Hearts ruined their season’s ambitions.
Maloney was far more satisfied with his side’s Hampden display than their performance at Tynecastle seven days earlier, but the outcome was similar.
After a 3-1 Edinburgh derby defeat 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 fight after going behind to excellent strikes from Ellis Simms and Stephen Kingsley by immediately hitting back through Chris Cadden and then pushing Hearts all the way, even after Joe Newell’s second yellow card in the 65th minute.
Only a magnificent stop from Craig Gordon to keep out a Ryan Porteous header, which the goalkeeper pushed on to the post, prevented Hibs from forcing extra time, but the defeat spelled the end of an underwhelming first chapter in Maloney’s management career.
Maloney has been without a full team of players to injury, illness and suspension at times, but supporters expected far more after he opened his Hibs career with two consecutive wins over Aberdeen and Dundee United.
Hibs have only recorded one league victory in 2022 and went into the split 19 points behind Hearts.
Maloney said: “I know exactly where the team are, where the squad are. 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 have, and you have got to give them credit, is a very strong squad, they have a lot of experience at this level and at higher levels. Unfortunately you saw Craig produce an amazing save. That’s what happens with players at that level.
“We have got a 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 out-perform teams above us. That’s going to be vital over the next few weeks.
“Come the start of the season, we have to remember how we feel now and make sure that it doesn’t happen again next season.
“It hurts a lot, and last week. I think the last three or four months there have been signs of progress. There have been moments where it feels like that progress has stalled.
“This doesn’t feel like that at all. This was by far the best performance I have had.
“I have known for quite a while the areas where we need to be better to give us an opportunity to fight for top six, top four, Europe. I have known that from very early on.
“I have worked extremely hard with the players we have, young players, but we all have to make sure that come the summer, come pre-season, we are a lot stronger in certain areas, so that when we have performances like this, we take advantage.
“The money we have, we have to spend it wisely this summer, and we have to be a lot, lot different at the start of next season.”
Hibs now face five low-key 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 difficult situation in terms of not making the top six, but we have to bring a performance level and intensity that we got at Hampden to every single game. That has to be the culture that we set.
“Part of the problem this season has been that not every performance level and desire and intensity has been at this level.
“No matter what opponent we play in the next five games, next season, we have to bring the same level of performance.
“And if we do, and we add the right level of player, then we will be a lot stronger next season.”