ALTHOUGH Hibernian have had a very mixed start to the season, with their 2-0 League Cup win over Ross County being their first victory of the campaign by more than a single goal, club captain Liam Craig is confident that everything is in place for a sustained improvement.
Above all, the midfielder believes that new manager Alan Stubbs has brought about a far happier and more enthusiastic environment at the club’s East Mains training ground, something which he thinks is a stark contrast to the air of disenchantment that prevailed under previous boss Terry Butcher.
It may be commonplace for players to praise their current boss, but in the case of Craig the compliments have significance, as Stubbs has already dropped him from the team. In many circumstances that is enough for a player to become disaffected, but Craig explained that in this case, his eagerness to contribute to the cause was undiminished.
“He has been excellent,” Craig said of Stubbs, who restored him for the match in Dingwall. “The biggest compliment I can give him is he has left me out of his last two league games but he’s still a manager you want to play for. The way he talks to you, the way he treats you, the way he goes about his business, you want to be playing under him week in, week out.
“He spoke to me and told me this is how he wanted to win the games. It’s all about reactions and I showed when I came back in at Ross County that I want to do well for the club – and the manager. I want to play for him every week.
“We all do. The players love training now – there’s not a rush to get away afterwards. In previous training sessions there was a rush to get away.
“It’s a really good place to work and that’s down to the manager. It was a massive job getting the players enjoying football again and winning games. I think it’s a great appointment by the club.
“It’s been well documented that it was tough at times last season, but the players are really responding to the way the manager goes about his business. We need to take that on to the pitch now. At times we have but we know we can do better.”
Looking forward to the resumption of league duty on Monday night, when his club visit Ibrox, Craig said the clean sheet against Ross County was as encouraging a sign as the two goals. “We need to be harder to beat, and against Ross County we were. At times we weren’t pretty, but we were effective with two goals on the break. Add in a clean sheet and it was a good night.
“The players need to realise we’re a big scalp for teams. Last year we were used to losing and we need to get away from that. We need to realise we’re expected to win every week, and we’ve not been doing that.
“At the start of the season performances were there without results. Against Ross County we didn’t play as well but we won.
“We also played very well against Rangers at the start of the season. We’re trying to play the right way. We showed against Rangers how much we had changed. But Rangers won, and that’s the habit they have got. We need that habit too.
“I’m sure Kris Boyd would agree that even when they are not at their best they still win games. We need to be at our best to get a result but beating Ross County gives us a great platform to go to Ibrox.
“It’s easy to say it would have been a different outcome against Rangers if we had not got a man sent off. We limited them to a few chances and created a lot of our own. We wanted to build on that but it’s not happened. Hopefully Ross County sees us turn a corner.
“We’ve got back-to-back home games after Ibrox and Hearts are to come too so we can get ourselves up the table. We’re confident we can put a run of results together.”
While speculation continues about a return for Leigh Griffiths on loan from Celtic, Craig said he had faith in the strikeforce at the club. “I think we have enough up top,” he said. “Dominique Malonga’s goals at Ross County will help, but it’s not just about the strikers. I need to score goals, so does Dylan McGeouch, who is an attacking player.
“The defenders need to score too, the whole team. We also need to defend as a team. It would be great to get a 35-goal striker, but if not hopefully Dominique, Jason [Cummings] or Heff [Paul Heffernan] will score. But we all need to take responsibility.
“Leigh scores goals, but he’s Celtic’s player. There’s nothing we can do about it. We can only focus on what we have in the dressing room.”
• Rangers v Hibs is exclusively live on BT Sport 1 from 7.30pm on Monday, 29 September. BT Sport will bring fans nine live SPFL matches before the end of November including Hibs v Hearts (26 October) and Hearts v Rangers (22 November). Visit btsport.com for more information.