Ahead of the big match between Rangers and Hibs tomorrow, we have a closer look at players from both sides. In this article, we herald the immediate impact of Simon Murray.
It’s midway through the first half at Easter Road. Hibs are drawing 1-1 with Partick Thistle.
Looking to play a one-two with Efe Ambrose stepping out of defence, Simon Murray is pipped to the ball by the lunging boot of Danny Devine. Not to be deterred, the striker quickly regains his balance and chases after the play. Steven Lawless, in possession, heading for the halfway line, hasn’t realised the opposing centre-forward is rapidly closing in on him. In a flash Murray appears, nicks the ball off the toes of Lawless, and begins moving back towards the Thistle goal. He’s barely taken his second stride when Martin Boyle’s return pass deflects into his path. Now he’s off. Darting for the space between two Thistle players, he moves it on to Danny Swanson up ahead, before motoring through the gears even further. As Swanson goes to return the ball, Murray breaks between the last two Thistle defenders, charging towards the centre of goal.
This passage of play didn’t produce the end result Hibs fans would have hoped for - Swanson’s pass was too short and Thistle were able to clear - but it sums up everything they already love about Murray, the summer signing from Dundee United.
The striker is just a terrier in attack. He loves to race around the final third, hassling defenders, intercepting passes, doing all the dirty work that you don’t normally associate with a player leading the line. In fact, he likes doing this work to such an extent that Neil Lennon has talked of reining him in a little, asking him to stick between the posts instead of curling into the channels at every opportunity, and already it appears to be paying dividends. The ‘headless chicken’ criticism sometimes levelled his way at Tannadice already appears to be outdated. There’s a greater purpose to his movement, it’s not just working hard for the sake of it.
Most importantly, he’s scoring goals. Lots and lots of goals. Nine in six games to be precise. Sure, with the exception of Saturday’s penalty against Partick Thistle, they’ve all come against lower league opposition. But if Saturday’s match is anything to go by, this will not be the last of them.
Even the aspects of his game where he tended to struggle he’s looked much better. His link up play was excellent against Thistle, creating a couple of great opportunities for Swanson in each half, while even his touch, often a source of frustration for United fans, looked pretty strong. There were only two occasions when he took a bad one. The latter was a late kick-out from Ofir Marciano, the former led to the first goal.
It’s more than Hibs fans could have asked for at this stage and, ironically given who they are facing this weekend, reminds them of Kenny Miller.
Not since the Scottish international, who came through the ranks at Easter Road, have the fans been able to appreciate a forward who works as hard as Murray to cover ground so much in the final third, and is a goal threat to boot.
Tougher tasks lay ahead. It’s a long season and it’s how he responds to his first period of adversity which will define him as a Hibs player. Everyone goes through it, whether it’s loss of form, injury or a harsh dropping from the first-team picture. He’ll need to power through such hurdles.
For the meantime, the Easter Road faithful are understandably excited to see what Murray, and new strike-partner Anthony Stokes, can achieve this season.