Can the former starlet rediscover his previous form and unleash his undoubted potential during his six-month loan spell? Craig Fowler examines the move
It’s been almost two-and-a-half years since Scott Bain reached his career apex. Ironically, it came against his new Hibs team-mate Simon Murray, in the dying embers of the first Dundee derby of the 2015-16 season.
The Dens Park side were trailing 2-0 to a Blair Spittal double before Greg Stewart fired them back into the match with a terrific curling effort. United, looking to run out the clock in stoppage time, had the ball in the corner flag when it ricocheted out and into the path of Chris Erskine with a clear run to the penalty box. Once there he fed Murray, who stepped inside James McPake and fired on target from ten yards out.
It looked certain to be a goal. That was, until Bain reached up with his right hand. He got just the slightest of touches, a brush with his fingers as the ball shot past him, but it was enough to turn the effort on to the crossbar. Had it hit the back of the net the game would have been over. Instead, Dundee went right up the other end and made it 2-2 when McPake reacted quickest to a spilled shot by Luis Zwick to send the away end into raptures.
Still 23 years old at the time, Bain was anointed as the future No.1 of Scotland. There was the small matter of Craig Gordon, David Marshall and Alan McGregor all in his path, but they were all over the age of 30 and time was on Bain’s side. He’d already shown enough as a young stopper in the top flight - indeed, he was named among the Team of the Year at the conclusion of the 2015-16 campaign - and would surely improve with more experience.
How much the sale of Kane Hemmings and Greg Stewart the following summer had to do with his downfall is something only the goalkeeper will know. There were rumblings that he was unhappy with the departures as Hemmings and Stewart weren’t just the best outfield players, they were two of his closest friends at the club. Regardless, his level of performance dropped off the following campaign and there wasn’t much to suggest he’d rediscover his previous form this term. While he’s still capable of pulling off a stunning stop, they’ve become scarcer over the past 18 months, and though he’s not made too many clangers, there have been too many savable shots which have found their way past him.
Even before his bust-up with Neil McCann it seemed highly unlikely he would remain at Dens Park for the beginning of the 2018/19 campaign. His contract was running down and every indication pointed to the player leaving. It’s clear that he wasn’t fully content with life on Tayside, and perhaps this contributed to his downfall from one of the league’s best players to another run-of-the-mill top flight keeper.
All of this acts as a warning to Hibs fans who hope he’ll come straight into the side and be an immediate improvement on Ofir Marciano. However, with tempered expectations, this loan signing is a great deal for the Easter Road club. If Bain fails to make the goalkeeping position his own, he’s at least provided some solid back-up for the remainder of the campaign. If Bain succeeds, then Hibs have put themselves into pole position to sign a rejuvenated player who has potential to be a star. Marciano still has three-and-a-half years remaining on his contract, and it wouldn’t be a wise use of resources to pay both a No.1’s salary, but it shouldn’t be too difficult to move on a full Israeli international should they wish to do so. It’s a gamble from the new signing. Somewhere where regular first-team football would have been guaranteed would have given him the best opportunity to put himself in the shop window ahead of his contract expiration. Then again, if he performs at Hibs rather than, for example, Ross County or Hamilton then he’ll boost his profile further.
What Bain must do now is knuckle down in training and plant a seed of doubt in his manager’s mind in case Marciano hits a poor run of form. The towering 28-year-old with male-model good looks has a propensity to pull off the spectacular but allow a few shots to pass him which you’d suspect a more reliable custodian would have stopped. He’s similar to his new understudy in that respect.
Though Yom Kippur and the birth of his son on consecutive matchdays was the official reason he dropped out of the side for a five-game stretch starting with the League Cup victory over Livingston in September, the fact that back-up Ross Laidlaw was given two games to warm-up for Marciano’s enforced absence and then stayed in the team for the semi-final loss to Celtic - where the deputy had a howler - suggested that Lennon wasn’t 100 per cent convinced with the goalkeeping hierarchy. Once back in the team, Marciano’s form improved - he pulled off stunning stops in victories over Kilmarnock and Dundee, as well as one in the loss to St Johnstone - though he then committed a big error in December’s 2-1 defeat to Rangers. In comparison to Hibs goalkeeper’s from the mid-2000s, he’s absolutely rock solid, but he can be prone to a wobbly and another error in the first few games after the winter break should see Bain get his chance.