Hibernian manager Jack Ross feels his side being in the mix for a third-place Ladbrokes Premiership finish and European qualification is testament to the progress they have made.
The Easter Road outfit moved five points behind third-spotted Aberdeen on Sunday with a crucial 2-1 win over Kilmarnock at Rugby Park.
Hibs were 12 points behind the Dons and just four points off the bottom of the table when Ross was appointed Paul Heckingbottom’s successor in November.
But Ross has overseen their climb up the table and they strengthened their grip on sixth place as first-half goals from Greg Docherty and Adam Jackson saw them open a four-point advantage over seventh-placed Killie, who drew level through Chris Burke.
Ross has been delighted with the strides his players have made and believes they are set up for an exciting climax to the campaign.
“I’ve always wanted us to push as high as we could and the fact we that’s even been talked about is testament to what the group has done over the last three months,” he said.
“It’s an exciting period for us. We’ve some good league games against the teams around us and then a cup quarter-final (Scottish Cup quarter-final against Inverness on February 29). We knew this was a defining part of the season and at the moment we’re going the right way about it.
“When you get thrown in mid-season it’s difficult and the team didn’t have a great start to the season. But I did think there were good players here and they’ve been receptive.
“We’ve got better steadily and more confident. I had no targets other than getting away from the position we were in at the beginning. Now that we’ve done that we can look forward to the latter part of the season.
“The fact that finishing third is even being spoken about is testament to the progress being made. We were in a relegation fight not so long ago and that, allied to the cup quarter-final, means there’s plenty for the group to be excited about.”
Kilmarnock manager Alex Dyer admitted their sluggish first-half display cost them the chance of a fourth successive league win and the chance to leapfrog Hibs into the top six.
Killie, who defeated Rangers in midweek, face a Scottish Cup replay with Aberdeen on Wednesday and Dyer is confident they will be ready for that clash.
Dyer said: “It’s a difficult one. We did enough second half, we worked hard second half but first half no.
“If we’d have got a result then obviously I’d be well happy but I don’t know if we did enough to win the game.
“We worked hard, second half we came out and we were better in the second half. We created enough chances but obviously it was not to be.
“It’s disappointing because obviously we did well in the week and we wanted to take something from the game to keep the momentum going.
“It wasn’t to be, we’ll regroup and we go again in another big game on Wednesday and then another big game on Sunday in the league (at Celtic).”