It only lasted six minutes and ended in a crushing 4-0 defeat, but it’s a memory Hibs kid Sam Stanton will cherish long after he’s hung up his boots.
Certainly the circumstances could have been much better, Pat Fenlon’s side already three goals down when the Easter Road boss handed the 17-year-old the first-team debut he’d been dreaming of.
But even the sight of Ibrox skipper Steven Davis adding an injury-time fourth for Ally McCoist’s side wasn’t going to spoil the young midfielder’s big day, Stanton well aware that, had the outcome still been in the balance, it was an opportunity which probably would never have arrived.
And although he admitted he’d never anticipated playing in the SPL at such a tender age, Stanton revealed finally being given the call had ended a bit of a wait having been in the squad which travelled to both Pittodrie and Tannadice without stripping for action before then sitting on the bench for matches against Inverness Caley and Dunfermline without being asked to remove his tracksuit.
Stanton’s performances for Hibs’ Under-19 side had, though, caught the eye of Fenlon, as had his attitude to the daily training routine at East Mains, the Irishman having gone on record to state a first team appearance was assured, the only difficulty given the club’s current plight being to find the right moment to blood the kid.
So, with Saturday’s game long gone, goals from Davis, David Healy and Sone Aluko having secured all three points for Rangers in their pursuit of SPL leaders Celtic, Fenlon decided that, while there was nothing to lose for his team, there would be, at least, a little for Stanton to gain. The youngster said: “I’d imagine if things had been a bit different, had the game been much tighter than it was then I probably wouldn’t have got the chance to play.
“Obviously I’d rather have gone on with us winning 3-0 with a few minutes to play than losing but those few minutes mean more to me at this moment than anything else I’ve done in football.
“Making your first team debut is what it is all about, the years and years of hard work and dedication have paid off. It was the moment I’d been waiting for and for it to come at a place like Ibrox was brilliant.
“I’d been in the squad a couple of times and then on the bench without getting on but throughout that period the gaffer had been great with me, always speaking to me and telling me the opportunity would come, all I had to do was keep working hard.
“Then, when he told me I was going on he just said to get on the ball, do what I do and enjoy it. It’s hard to say you enjoyed it given the final scoreline but with the time added on I was on for five or six minutes and I did enjoy the experience.
“Of course it is vastly different to Under-19 football, the stadium, a big, big crowd and so on but that’s what every young player dreams of, that’s why you want to be a player in the first case.”
Stanton believes that even just being on the bench again – with Under-19 team-mate Ross Caldwell alongside him – flagged up a message from Fenlon to other youngsters, that the manager is prepared to give them their chance.
The former Broughton Primary and Trinity Academy pupil said: “Despite the position the club is in, it’s obvious the manager feels that if you are good enough then he is prepared to play you.
“It would probably be easier for him to pack the bench with experienced players but in recent weeks Ross, Scott Smith and myself have all been on the bench. Even just being part of the squad is great experience at our age but it also shows the manager has a belief in us despite the position we are in.
“There are plenty of other good young players at the club just waiting for the same chance as we’ve had.
“I think they are probably a wee bit envious but they’ve all been great, really supportive and happy for us.
“The first-team players have been equally good, as you can imagine it was a pretty deflated dressing-room at Ibrox but the lads all found time to congratulate me on my debut.
“The big difference now is that, while Under-19 football is all about making progress, now it is all about results,”
Only in his second year as a professional, Stanton admits it’s all happened a bit quicker than he could ever have dreamt of, but he’s equally aware there’s much more work to be done on his part before he can even consider himself as having “made it.”
The immediate future, he knows, is more than likely to offer only limited opportunities to further his first-team education, but, he insisted, he’s more than willing to play whatever part he can in helping drive Hibs out of danger. He said: “It’s unbelievable what has happened, I’ll remember those few minutes at Ibrox forever and my jersey will be framed and hung on the wall at home.
“Between now and the end of the season I’ll hopefully get a bit more game time and the chance to do my bit for the cause. I’ve still obviously got a lot, lot more to learn but if you work hard and give 100 per cent dedication to your football then you will have a chance. There’s plenty more of that ahead for me.”