LIAM CRAIG insists he is ready to remain at Hibernian to spearhead their promotion push after lauding the change in atmosphere at the club since Alan Stubbs replaced Terry Butcher at the helm.
Scorers: Hibernian - Cummings (30,59), Craig (68), Harris (82)
The Hibs skipper looked certain to be leaving the club following relegation to the Championship last season, with Butcher informing Craig he was free to find a new club in the close season.
He was immediately linked with a return to St Johnstone, where he spent five highly successful years prior to arriving at Easter Road in 2013.
However, the appointment of Stubbs has seismically altered the lay of the land at Hibs, and Craig now firmly sees his future as part of the club’s attempt to return to the Premiership at the first time of asking.
“It wasn’t just suggestions [that Butcher had told Craig to find another club], that was the case,” explained Craig. “If he was still here then there might have been another 11 or 12 of us not here. To be fair, I said at the end of last season that if none of us were here then we could have no complaints, because last season wasn’t good enough.
“But, looking forward to this season, I’m back now and it feels all new at the club now. I have loved it so far under Alan and, as far as I’m concerned I will be here all season unless something drastic changes.”
Craig was careful not to pointedly criticise the methods and manner of Butcher’s reign at Easter Road.
He was, after all, the man who made Craig captain last season, albeit he then used the gifted midfielder somewhat sparingly throughout his six months in the dugout.
Nevertheless, it is no secret some senior first-team players were disgruntled by Butcher’s man-management style and some of his key decisions as Hibs hurtled towards relegation. Craig makes it patently clear that the dressing room is already a very different place following the arrival of Stubbs.
“I have seen things in the last two weeks that excite me and put me in a much more positive and optimistic frame of mind than what the last six months have been,” said Craig. “It’s only been two weeks together and it is still the same group of boys. It’s not as if seven or eight new faces have come in and lifted the place – the manager has done that. He has arrived and straight away, with the way he has spoken and what he wants us to do on the training pitch, it’s been first class.
“Has there been a difference? Absolutely. I don’t want to talk about last season, that’s done now. But what I will say is the way the manager has gone about his business has been excellent and the response from the players has been great. It is a really good atmosphere. We are under no illusions about what is expected this year and it is going to be tough, it is a competitive league and we need a big improvement, but I’m excited about what’s to come.”
Craig was speaking after a pleasing, if somewhat routine, 4-0 victory at a picturesque Victoria Park in the Borders.
Jason Cummings, showing the attacking spark with which he scored more than 30 goals for Hibs’ under-20s last term, netted a double against a Vale side who were stubborn for an hour.
However, as the Lowland League side tired, Hibs’ attacking talent – particularly Sam Stanton, Alex Harris and Liam Craig – started to open them up at will.
Stanton’s cameo was a delight, full of direct running and fleet of foot, while Craig and Harris both found the net. Reading too much into a friendly is, of course, a mug’s game. However, as one elderly Hibs fan at the match drolly said: “three months ago, Vale of Leithen would have beat us”, so progress is progress.
“It’s always nice to get back playing and, especially, getting back on the scoresheet,” added Craig. “But the most important thing was to implement the things the manager wants us to do. I think we did that. For large spells we controlled it and it is great for the younger boys in the squad to get a run-out with the first team.”
Vale of Leithen: M McMullen (Wilson 65); Sclater (Tanish 70), Elliot, Blaikie, Dickson; Brady, McCulloch (Anderson 77), Lynch (Rixon 70), Tulloch; Morris (McGregor 52), O’Brien. Sub not used: Ferguson.
Hibernian: Perntreau (Brennan 45); Buxton (Dunsmore 45), Nelson (Forster 45), Gardiner (Hanlon 45), Martyniuk (Booth 45); Martin (Harris 45), Stevenson (Burke 45), Tudur Jones (Craig 45), Todd (Stanton 45); Cummings (Crane 59; Sinclair 82), Handling (Allan 59).