Given Rangers’ lavish spending on high-profile transfer targets and Hearts’ recent dominance over their city neighbours, you could forgive those within the Hibernian squad for approaching two of their early fixtures in the new season with some trepidation.
The latest arrival at Easter Road, however, is having none of that. After all, Farid El Alagui has already proved adept at upsetting the odds against Rangers, with Hearts’ current goalkeeper, Neil Alexander, among the collateral damage that day.
In a game he ranks among his most memorable in British football, the French-Moroccan striker scored twice against the Glasgow giants in 2011 as Falkirk ran out 3-2 winners in the League Cup. Steven Pressley’s youthful Bairns defeated a side which included Steven Naismith, Steven Whittaker, Steven Davis and Nikica Jelavic – as well as Alexander between the sticks.
Consequently, El Alagui will have no inferiority complex when Hibs travel to Ibrox for their season curtain-raiser in the Petrofac Training Cup on 5 August. He will similarly relish the chance to best Alexander again when they face Hearts in the first Edinburgh derby of the season 12 days later.
“There are no fears about playing Rangers. It’s exciting,” said the 28-year-old, who has penned a two-year deal at Easter Road.
“It’s great to be playing them and Hearts. The Rangers game was one of the biggest games in my career because they’re a big club and I had just arrived in Scotland. It was the best feeling. Rangers had a stronger team than Falkirk and we still beat them, so it doesn’t mean anything this season how strong people think they will be. In 90 minutes anything can happen.
“Plus, I managed to score past Neil Alexander, so I hope to do that again.”
Indeed, far from being cowed by a testing Championship campaign, El Alagui says encounters with opponents such as Rangers and Hearts made his decision to join Hibs a relatively simple one.
He weighed up a number of factors when choosing between the Hibees, Dundee and St Johnstone, but in the end a cursory glance at the fixture list was enough to seal the deal.
Put bluntly, El Alagui believes the Championship will be more competitive and entertaining than the top-flight this season.
“I looked at the fixture schedules for the Premiership and the Championship and then I had no hesitation in coming here,” continued El Alagui. “The Championship is the place to be next season. I think this season it is more appealing. We know that Celtic will win the Premiership but we don’t know who is going to get promoted.”
There is one final decision for El Alagui to make as he settles into life in the capital. But it’s a biggie. He needs to find a safe pair of hands for his lucky pound coin, which was discovered on the pitch at the Falkirk Stadium prior to his first match in Scottish football. He went on to score 27 goals that season.
“The lucky coin has made the journey with me. I have to find someone to take charge of it,” he smiled. “It has to be someone who is superstitious and believes. It cannot just be a random person. Lee Bullen was the first in charge of it at Falkirk.
“It was Darren Jackson who kept it at Dundee United. I give them the coin before the season starts and I don’t see it until I score. Hopefully I see it a lot at Hibs.”