Brandon Barker made a grand entrance for Hibernian on Wednesday night. Within minutes of replacing Oli Shaw he watched two shots hit the post and then saw another rise just over Rangers goalkeeper Wes Foderingham’s bar.
Barker is also capable of making big statements. The on-loan Manchester City winger feels Hibs’ lively performance in the 2-1 defeat showed why they can finish league runners-up even if they were second best to Rangers in that particular contest – in terms of scoreline at least.
“It’s worse losing like that – I’d rather lose a 4-0 game than a game like that,” reflected Barker, who watched from the bench as Hibs dominated the first half. The 21-year-old then came on and contributed himself as the hosts continued to have the upper hand.
Having excelled against the Ibrox side and Aberdeen already this season, Barker sees no reason why Hibs shouldn’t feel confident about overhauling both sides in the league. They have a quick opportunity to test their credentials against another rival when they visit Aberdeen tomorrow in a televised lunchtime kick-off.
Neil Lennon is more circumspect when pondering the trip, expressing a need to take something at least from the game. However, Barker feels three points are a must for Hibs. Aberdeen are currently six in front of the Easter Road side, as are Rangers.
The Hibs manager noted that this is far from unbridgeable at this stage of the season, when games come thick and fast. But neither he nor Barker will wish for the gap to become any greater, with Rangers at home to St Johnstone on the same afternoon.
“The manager believes in us,” said Barker. “You can see that from the way he talks about us, and talks to us. He definitely believes we can finish second. I’m not going to sit here and say we will finish second – that would be stupid of me. But the performances of the team when we play the big teams, especially when we go toe-to-toe with them, there has not been a game where we have been dominated.”
Hibs have had a testing week, hosting both Celtic and Rangers, matches from which they have secured one point from six after coming back from 2-0 down against the champions. It doesn’t get any easier this weekend at Pittodrie against Derek McInnes’ side, who have enjoyed two successive wins and clean sheets on the road. Hibs lost narrowly 1-0 to Aberdeen when they met at Easter Road earlier this season.
“There were maybe parts in the Celtic game where we were dominated by a superior team,” said Barker. “But against the other two, who we are fighting with for second place, I do not see much in it.
“We have just come up from the Championship. We don’t just want to fill places. We want to challenge for European places. Hopefully we can get a positive result on Saturday. We’ll give everything and hopefully it will go our way.”
Hibs could not have given much more on Wednesday night, just four days after the fightback against Celtic.
Barker picked up a knock that afternoon and so was among the substitutes in midweek. But he was sent on for the teenage Shaw shortly into the second half and gave Rangers right-back James Tavernier a torrid time.
“I was obviously a bit disappointed not to start v Rangers,” said Barker, who is still looking for his first goal after 17 appearances. “The gaffer went with the team he went with and it worked, the first half especially. I came on and I thought I did all right. I am loving my time here. I am loving the people I work with. I feel right at home and hopefully I can stay for as long as possible.” Like most people inside Easter Road, Barker felt Hibs were denied a clear penalty with 15 minutes left, when David Bates controlled an Efe Ambrose cross with his arm. He was aghast that Kevin Clancy, having received no encouragement from his far-side assistant, ignored Hibs’ appeals. But the winger admitted it should not have reached the stage where Hibs were relying on the referee.
“We have watched the clips back,” he said. “The ball is going across and he just stops the ball going right across him with his hand. And the ref has not seen it. Again that’s the bit of luck we needed – we need the ref to give that for us to get back into the game. But he didn’t and we have to move on now.
“I am not going to moan and say we should have got a pen because we should have scored again anyway and easily won that game 4-1, or 4-2. It’s annoying when you don’t get a penalty like that but the game should have been dead and buried by that time.
“We are not going to go on about the refs,” he added. “We just go again on Saturday.”