WHEN asked to assess Hamilton Accies, Ian Murray can draw on some first-hand but contradictory evidence. Only last month his team, Dumbarton, beat the play-off contenders 4-1, dashing their hopes of being promoted automatically.
Back in August, however, the score was reversed, and, according to the Sons manager, could have been a whole lot worse for his side.
Yet, while those results might hint at Hamilton’s inconsistency, Murray is sure of one thing: they are a good footballing side who should not be underestimated. Indeed, when asked to predict how his old team Hibernian will fare in tonight’s Premiership play-off final first leg, the former Easter Road captain had to admit he thought they would lose. Keeping the tie alive going into Sunday’s second leg in Edinburgh, he suggested, may be the best Hibs can hope for at New Douglas Park this evening.
“I think Hamilton will win tomorrow,” said Murray yesterday. “I’ve got a feeling for them.
“It just depends by how much. If Hibs can stay in the tie, maybe by the odd goal, then the crowd at Easter Road might see them over the line.
“Terry Butcher will have done his homework, but any Hibs fan that thinks that Hamilton are going to be a pushover is in for a rude awakening. Especially in the first 15 minutes, because Hamilton will come flying out the traps, I’m pretty sure.
“They will be really tough. It’s as hard a game as Hibs could have. When Hamilton are on their game, especially at home, they are a real handful.
“They’ve good players, really quick players, and they like to go out and attack. They will go at Hibs right from the off.
“Their positivity is such a big part of their style. They beat us 4-1 in the second game of the season and it was as big a doing as we’ve had since going in there. It was 4-1 going on 104-1 and they really impressed me.
“We managed to turn it around when we played them and won by the same score. But in the other games we drew 3-3 and it was 2-2 with a minute to go, then we beat them 2-1 at our place.
“So there have been a lot of goals. That’s the thing about the championship – it’s full of youthful, pacy players who aren’t afraid to have a go. They’ll try some outrageous things that will sometimes come off.
“It’s not ideal preparation for Hibs to have ten days off, especially on the back of poor games and poor defeats. When you lose a game you want to get right back into it.
“But for Hibs the first game is away from home. If they can keep that tight going back to Easter Road, the second leg being there will give them a massive advantage. But Hibs need to make sure they’re in the match for the second leg, because knowing Hamilton they could play anybody and win comfortably.
“It’s so hard to tell. Hamilton with their pace and the way they play could really cause Hibs problems. But the flipside is Hibs might have enough in the tank to sneak through.”
As the manager of one of the smaller clubs in the Championship, Murray might be expected to welcome the addition of Hibs, as well as Rangers and Hearts, to his fixture list next season. But someone who maintains strong links with his old club, he is well aware that there is no attraction whatsoever for them in dropping down a division, no matter the number of entertaining games they might expect next season if they are demoted.
“It won’t make much of a difference in terms of the football,” Murray said when asked about the consequences of relegation for Hibs and his expectations of life in the Championship next season. “Financially, it will add a bit in terms of coverage and perhaps sponsorship, but it would make our life harder.
“We would get to go to Easter Road and entertain Hibs at our place. There’s no doubt that if you’d said that there would be Rangers, Hearts and Hibs mixed in with all the part-time teams in the second year you’d have been marched away by the men in white coats.
“People say the Championship could be the place to be with Hearts and Rangers, but it’s a no-brainer – you need to be in the Premiership.”
• Ian Murray was at Toryglen Regional Football Centre in Glasgow to support the TSB Junior Sevens Finals.