Sproule's return to Hibs will bear fruit, says Murray

Ian MURRAY looked on as his Rangers team-mates were left open-mouthed as Ivan Sproule's blistering pace ripped them apart, the unknown Irishman silencing Ibrox as he claimed a stunning hat-trick.

Today Sproule may not present so much of a surprise package as he prepares to return for a second spell in the green and white of Hibs but Murray believes he'll still leave opposition defenders gasping for breath.

Murray and Sproule shared the Easter Road dressing-room for only a few months after former boss Tony Mowbray forked out what proved to be a bargain 5000 for the winger from Northern Ireland outfit Institute, the utility man heading along the M8 to join Alex McLeish in Govan that summer.

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But he had learned enough in that short spell to be able to warn his new team-mates of the threat Sproule posed as he took over from Garry O'Connor to spearhead Hibs attack.

Barely 30 minutes later they were wishing they'd listened, Sproule becoming the first Hibs player to net a hat-trick at Ibrox in more than a century.

And it is moments like those Murray firmly believes 30-year-old Sproule can recapture after becoming Colin Calderwood's first signing of the close season.

Murray, who will enjoy a Testimonial Year over the coming months, has already been assured Sproule retains that lightning quick turn of pace which lit up Easter Road first time round.

He revealed: "I haven't met Ivan other than socially since he left Hibs but I was speaking to someone who was with him at Bristol City only a couple of days before he signed for us again, something I knew nothing about.

"I asked how Ivan was getting on and was told he hasn't lost any of his speed which is the first question anyone asks. Ivan would be the first to admit that's main attribute, it causes chaos and havoc as pace is the one thing that petrifies every defender at every level in football, especially someone as quick as Ivan.

"I remember him coming on for big Garry - who wasn't best pleased - that afternoon at Ibrox. Although it was 0-0 Rangers were dominating but I recall telling Sotiros Kyrgiakos I think it was, that the boy coming on was really quick.

"Did he believe me? It didn't look that way. Ivan got his three goals and I think that cemented his place at Easter Road because he was still talking about being homesick and going home at that point. After that he never looked back."

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Although Murray believes Sproule will rely less on his out-and-out pace, believing he'll be returning to Hibs a wiser and more complete player, he still backs him to show defenders a clean pair of heels. Speaking as he helped launch Hibs new "Slanted pitch" home strip, Murray said: "Ivan is so quick you cannot stop him, Play the ball over the top and if he gets the run on you then you can't even bring him down. He'll beat you over than initial ten or 20 yards and there won't be many, if any players in this League who will have the same sort of speed as him.

"He can play right or left or you can put him up front if you need an out ball."

While some may insist players shouldn't return to the scene of former success, Murray, who has trod that same path, backed Sproule to bring as much excitement to Easter Road as he did six years ago recalling how the supporters in the East Stand would rise as one in anticipation every time he got the ball. Cautioning that no-one should place too much expectation on his wiry frame, he said: "You have to have confidence in yourself and knowing Ivan he will.

"For some reason the Irish boys always seem full of confidence. Ivan was always a great guy to have in the dressing-room, a fiery character but somoeone who was also full of commmitment.

"He knows he has the backing of the manager who wanted to bring him back, the club have managed to do so and, I think, the supporters wanted to see him back again.

"No matter what anyone might have to say, they know that when Ivan gets out on that pitch he is quick and it is then a question of how to stop him.

"He's the type of player the fans want to see get the ball because they want to see him take on the opposition - it's almost a disappointment when he doesn't get it or, if he does, he passes it.

"Ivan will always bring an excitement because of the sort of player he is but he won't be a one-man team. We just can't give the ball to Ivan and expect him to get his head down and run. There's a balance to be struck, we have to work together as a team. He's experienced and intelligent enough to know that but I have no doubt he'll be relishing the opportunity."