Hibs attempted to provide a decoy by deploying a Scott in midfield, just not the one the home fans most wanted to see. The first Allan to emerge from the bench, meanwhile, was not Scott, but Lewis, who replaced Dominique Malonga early on. Were Hibs trolling their own fans?
Scott Martin made a reasonable debut in a game few could have predicted ending the way it did. The 18 year old was one of six players featuring in the Hibs starting XI who have graduated from the club’s own academy, while there were five more, including Lewis Allan, on the bench.
It is a detail that offers hope in the event of star man Scott Allan being lured away, particularly since Sam Stanton, one of those reared by the club and who himself seemed on the verge of moving on during the summer, still looks capable of becoming a creative fulcrum at Easter Road.
His well-struck opening goal after 15 minutes helped ease the fans’ fears that leaving Allan on the bench was potentially damaging to their team’s prospects of securing a morale-boosting win.
After Hibs re-gathered their poise following Rangers’ bright opening, the first half an hour proved heartening for the home fans, who might have been encouraged to wonder whether life without Allan might not be so bad after all. But Rangers themselves grew stronger again after an uneasy spell when so many new faces – they started with seven new signings – initially struggled to gel, perhaps understandably.
A fine free-kick strike from one of this number, the right-back James Tavernier, got them up and running. They then possibly surprised even themselves by going in at the break 2-1 ahead after Martyn Waghorn, another new recruit from Wigan, bundled in his first competitive goal for the club.
When the same player made it 3-1 shortly after half-time, all eyes were again on Allan, warming up in front of the Famous Five stand. Stubbs knew his own credibility was at risk if he left his best player on the bench any longer, particularly now Rangers had turned the tables so convincingly.
But these were now arguably more difficult circumstances into which to pitch Allan, whose every touch was cheered by the now jubilant away fans.
Nevertheless, his introduction had an almost immediately favourable effect as Hibs dragged themselves back into the tie. Not that Allan was involved in the incident that saw Hibs gain a penalty after a barge on Jason Cummings, who comfortably tucked the award away.
But as we saw last Thursday night when Aberdeen profited from slackness in the Rijeka defence almost immediately after the Croatians looked to have secured a foothold in the tie, Hibs too felt the force of a sucker-punch within a couple of minutes or so of scoring, underlining how teams are often most vulnerable after grabbing a goal.
Andy Halliday’s strike, which crossed the line after coming down off the underside of the bar, was admittedly rather special and Kenny Miller added some further gloss to the scoreline with two later goals from close-range.
All eyes were again on Allan after the final whistle as he tried to keep things as low key as possible. He pulled out his shin pads from his socks before shaking the hands of those Rangers players who approached him. He had already had his hair ruffled by Nicky Law during the game much to the amusement of the Rangers fans.
Stubbs was adamant afterwards. “Three words”, the Hibs manager said. “Not for sale.” But he admitted his team selection was influenced by Rangers’ two bids for the player in the run-up to the game. Martin, who made his full competitive debut, was one of those who benefited from Allan’s exclusion from the starting line-up. But he reported that Allan, despite the likely turmoil in his own head, had been as supportive as anyone could have hoped.
“I travel in with Scott [to training] every day,” said Martin. “He’s helped me through stuff on and off the pitch. He told me that this was my chance and that I should take it, to come off with no regrets. He said I was there for a reason. He was a good help and even spoke to me in the changing room after the game.
“He said ‘well done and keep doing what you’re doing’. It was nice of him to do that. He’s not the type of boy or player to just think about himself. He helps all the youngsters and tries to give them advice. He’s helped me through games and when I’ve come on as a substitute previously he’s been the one who has talked me through it and been in my ear.
“It’s good for the players to hear the club won’t sell him,” he added. “It’s a confidence booster that we’re not giving into bigger clubs and sell when they’re worth more.”
However the saga develops, time will tell. But the way this game panned out has surely only stiffened Hibs’ resolve not to sell their playmaker and best player to their title rivals.