ALI Crawford had a brief taste of top-flight Scottish football as a teenager, making 21 SPL appearances for Hamilton Accies before their relegation in 2011.
Now 22, the midfielder is a mainstay of the Lanarkshire side seeking promotion to the Premiership at Hibs’ expense.
Crawford has been the only ever-present this season in a Hamilton team which narrowly missed out on automatic promotion behind Dundee. Named in the PFA Scotland Championship Team of the Year, he is determined to seize the opportunity to take the next step in his promising career. “I played in the SPL before, but these play-off games against Hibs are the biggest of my life so far,” said Crawford. “They are live on TV, there is a huge audience and it’s a chance to showcase our talents. We have to show why we should be playing in the top division. We said after we failed to clinch promotion that we wanted to give ourselves a second chance and this is it. We have to step up to the plate now. Every player wants to play at the highest level they possibly can. This is an opportunity to be where I think we belong.
“We shot ourselves in the foot in the title race, having it in our own hands in the closing weeks. We threw it away, really. But if we get there through the play-off, it will be a big achievement.”
Crawford believes Hibs have good reason to be nervous about the task facing them over 120 minutes against an Accies side who have lost just one of their last 15 games. “All the pressure is on Hibs,” he added. “Personally, I didn’t expect Hibs to be in this position – I thought it would be Kilmarnock or St Mirren in the play-off. But Hibs haven’t played well enough to save themselves. It’s now our task to relegate them.
“I think, looking at the results in the last few weeks, we are a team that Hibs should be wary of facing. Everyone knows Hibs have been struggling of late. Their confidence will be low and if we can get an early goal on Wednesday night, who knows what might happen? Hibs have already said they didn’t fancy playing us in the play-off, out of all the teams in the Championship. They’ll be wary of how good we are at New Douglas Park and I think our form would strike fear into anyone.
“The astroturf pitch here definitely plays into our hands. They’ve been playing on grass every week in the Premiership, although I suppose they’ve got astrograss at their training ground. We’ve been playing on it all season, though, and we’re capable of getting the ball down and performing on it. So I think it’s a clear advantage to us. If we score first, will they be able to handle it? I don’t know. That has to be our mentality, to unsettle them.
“I didn’t realise until someone told me that we have scored as many goals in our last three games as Hibs have since February. That’s a good stat, even if we did get ten in one game against Morton!
“I’d say the momentum counts for a lot. When you are playing a team who are struggling to get a win, if they go a goal down early on they will automatically think, ‘Oh here we go, we’re going to get beat again’. So it does play a big part in the mindset of the tie. It is imperative we go out and try to get the first goal. It would put doubts into their heads and hopefully we can do it.”