Callum Crane eyes more action after making league bow for Hibs

Callum Crane made his first league appearance for Hibs against Dunfermline
Callum Crane made his first league appearance for Hibs against Dunfermline
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He has, arguably, one of the toughest jobs in Scottish football as understudy to Lewis Stevenson, Hibs’ longest-serving player, who has just clocked up his 350th game for the club.

But finally the waiting game is over for Callum Crane, the 20-year-old making his Championship debut – not replacing the dependable Stevenson – but coming on as a second-half substitute to help Neil 
Lennon’s side hang on to a point in the face of a spirited fightback by Dunfermline.

A first-half injury to centre-half Liam Fontaine had seen midfielder Marvin Bartley pressed into service alongside Darren McGregor but, as he was pushed forward to shore things up in the middle of the park, Crane, primarily a left-back, stepped from the bench as a makeshift central defender.

Given the game was poised on a knife edge – the visitors pulling themselves level at 2-2 after being two goals behind and threatening to go on and win the match – Crane admitted he was a touch surprised, but delighted, to be given the call by Lennon.

Although he’d turned in a man-of-the match performance in a pre-season friendly against Birmingham City, Crane’s only previous taste of competitive action had come in the Irn-Bru Cup clash with Highland League side Turriff United five months ago.

However, Crane, who spent the second half of last season on loan at Berwick Rangers, insisted he wasn’t fazed at the prospect of being thrown into the fray at such a critical point although he did concede the experience was somewhat different to Turriff. He said: “It was the biggest crowd I’d ever played in front of but I had no doubts, I just wanted to go on, do my best and hopefully not concede another goal while also trying to help out at the other end.

“There’s a big difference between the Development League and the Championship. I was facing far more experienced players but it was great for me.

“I’d been told by the gaffer to go and warm-up which I did but, when I got back to the dug-out, he said ‘Callum get ready, you are going on’.

“Ideally, you’d like to ease yourself into things but that was difficult to do. But I had Darren and Lewis on either side encouraging me.

“I didn’t expect to be called upon the way the game was going, but I was delighted. I had played centre back for the development team for the last five or six games and did okay so I was a bit used to playing there.

“The fact I’ve also moved into the first-team dressing-room and have been more involved with them this season – I was part of the group that travelled to Brondby for the Europa League and had been on a few other trips – has helped as I feel more comfortable around the boys.”

Nevertheless, Crane admitted having to bide his time had been frustrating, no more so than the day he stood on the touchline ready to go on against Dumbarton in mid-December only for the ball to remain in play until the final whistle, robbing him, for the time being, of his big moment.

He said: “I’ve been on the sidelines all season waiting for an opportunity so it does become a bit frustrating. But it’s hard when you have someone like Lewy in front of you because he is so consistent.

“He’s been doing really well so I really cannot complain. He’s the established player and he’s helped me, always talking and passing on advice.

“But I’ve been here for eight or nine years now and for my career and development I want to play more games.”

Crane, who recently agreed a contract extension, also acknowledges the rock-solid back four, and on occasions back three, Hibs have boasted this season, has been a major reason for him cooling his heels on the bench, Dunfermline becoming only the second side to have scored two league goals against them although they still have the tightest defence in British football.

With Lennon facing a crisis in that area, Fontaine joining fellow central defenders Paul Hanlon and Jordon Forster on the casualty list, the Hibs boss has moved to bring Celtic defender Efe Ambrose to Easter Road on an emergency loan until the end of the season.

Crane, though, remains hopeful he can get some game time in tomorrow night’s Championship match against relegation-threatened St Mirren in Paisley.

The boy from Ratho said: “The gaffer hasn’t had reason to change things because the team has been playing well. I can’t exactly go chapping on his door because of that, it’s up to me to force my way into his plans.

“Injuries are obviously bad for the team. We’re a bit short in numbers at the moment and hopefully we’ll get some of them back as soon as possible.

“The flip side, though, is that it’s given me a chance. If Paul and Jordon were fit and Liam hadn’t got injured I probably wouldn’t have got on. So it was good for me if not so good for them.”

Despite clocking up their third successive draw in the league, Hibs remain seven points clear of their closest rivals for the title Dundee United although Lennon had hoped over the course of those games against Ayr, Raith Rovers and now Dunfermline that gap would have been extended as the season heads for the final straight.

Crane admitted having to settle for a draw against the Pars was disappointing given Martin Boyle and Jason Cummings had fired Hibs into a two-goal lead within the opening 25 minutes.

But he conceded a point apiece was probably a fair outcome, Paul McMullan and Kallum Higginbothan hauling Dunfermline level while goalkeeper Ofir Marciano helped hold Allan Johnston’s side at bay as they sought a winner with a string of outstanding saves.

He said: “We knew Dundee United had drawn with Morton which was a good result for us, and we wanted to put ourselves further ahead to put them under even more pressure.

“We got off to a terrific start but they got a goal back right away, one which was probably avoidable and at the end of the day a draw was probably a fair result.

“It was only the second time we’ve conceded two goals in the league this season. We’re normally very solid defensively but obviously the injury to Liam disrupted things a bit.

“Whichever way you look at the result we have to take it on the chin, move on and look to try to get the three points and widen that gap tomorrow night.”