THESE guys don’t like getting ahead of themselves. You won’t persuade a footballer to talk about any game other than the next one they’re playing. Too bad if Barcelona are on the horizon; they’ll only discuss the here and now of Bonnyrigg Rose.
Presumably, then, no Hibernian players are willing to admit they’re desperate for another crack at Rangers, especially given the improved form of the Easter Road club and the triumphalism coming out of Ibrox right now.
Ah, but there’s always Jason Cummings, the unshy and non-retiring striker. Get him on a good day – always defined by him having just scored a goal – and you never know, he just might …
“We can’t wait to play them again,” he said of a game which is still seven weeks away. “Obviously Rangers have started the season well. They’ve got a good squad and something good going at the moment. But we’ve just had a three-nil win to give our fans something to cheer about.”
Previously Rangers had been banging in five goals every week while Alan Stubbs’ side were notching more modest victories, but on Saturday the scorelines in Leith and Govan were identical. Dave King, the Rangers chairman, has been talking like the Championship is already won but Hibs will be hoping to stay in touch with the leaders until the next meeting at Easter Road on 1 November and then gain revenge for the narrow defeat at Ibrox.
“It’s a long season and we still have to play them a few times,” added Cummings, who scored the second goal in the win over Alloa Athletic. “We know what they’re about, they’re a good side, but if we’d taken our chances in the last game we could have won. We’re looking forward to next time and we can definitely beat them.” Then he said it again: “Definitely.”
Though he’s always a confident fellow, Cummings’ optimism was fuelled by his team having just posted their most accomplished performance to date against the admittedly sting-free Wasps. After creating, and blowing, two chances inside the first minute, Alloa never troubled Hibs again, and their manager Danny Lennon, while stressing the gulf between the teams’ respective budgets and the need for his side to rise to the challenges presented by places like Easter Road, was generous enough to admit that some of the Hibees’ play had been “fantastic”.
He would have been thinking of the midfield interchanges involving John McGinn, Liam Henderson and Dylan McGeouch. The latter was named man-of-the-match but the other two, who scored their first goals for the club, were definite contenders. Marvin Bartley does the unseen or ugly jobs and Fraser Fyvie, currently injured, may wonder how he’s going to reclaim his place.
Cummings said he thought Hibs would suffer from the loss of playmaker Scott Allan to Celtic but sang the praises of the new creative unit. “Scotty used to assist me all the time and I thought we might struggle when he went. But the gaffer has brought in some unbelievable midfielders. They’re top, top players and you know they’re going to set you up. They’re a joy to play with.”
Hibs have expanded their midfield options but, regarding the attack, it’s as if they’ve put up a sign outside Easter Road reading: “Strikers welcome here.” To Cummings, Dominique Malonga, Farid El Alagui and Martin Boyle, Stubbs added Dan Carmichael in the summer and, before the transfer window closed, Henri Anier, Jamie Insall and Islam Feruz.
Malonga and Boyle had to bide their time on the bench while Chelsea loan signing Feruz had an 18-minute debut which, unsurprisingly, was a lot less dramatic than his encounter with the traffic police while out in his Porsche a few nights previously. There’s plenty of competition for the forward positions and Cummings admits it’s making him anxious about his place in the team.
“I’m looking over my shoulder,” he said. “There are six or seven guys who all want to play. They’re of a good standard because the gaffer only brings in quality players. Looking at them in training, they’re sharp and fast and Izzy … well, he’s fast and sharp! I sometimes have to drop to left-back so they can all get a turn up front.
“The thing is, I’ve got the jersey at the moment. The gaffer has told me that if I play well and work hard for the team then I’ll keep my place. He’s said it’s not just about scoring goals. I think before if I’d played rubbish I would still be happy if I’d managed to score. I’m trying to change that attitude, and to be pleased with a good all-round game. But personally I do like scoring every week.”
Cummings can claim an assist for the opener against Alloa, with his shot parried by David Crawford into the path of Henderson for an easy tap-in. The pick of the goals came when Henderson rolled a quick corner along the turf to McGinn and the midfielder sold a cute dummy before firing home.
Cummings might have squared the ball when presented with his chance but, with competition for places being what it is, that didn’t happen. “The keeper put it in for me,” he said. “I got a bit lucky.”