Liam Henderson was oblivious to the fact Celtic’s head of youth development Chris McCart was sitting high in the main stand at Easter Road keeping a close eye on the on-loan Hoops kid as he faced Alloa.
For the only person the 19-year-old midfielder was intent on impressing was Alan Stubbs, determined to repay the faith the Hibs boss has shown in him.
Although he’s signed a new long-term deal with the Premiership champions, Henderson will spend this season in Edinburgh gaining invaluable first team experience while hopefully helping Hibs drive towards promotion.
“If I am being totally honest, I am not really focusing on Celtic just now,” insisted Henderson. “My main aim for this year is everything to do with Hibs, putting in 100 per cent here and repaying the faith the manager has shown in me.
“He has told me he want me to play here and for me that’s second to none. Being so young he has shown great faith in me so although it’s always nice to know Celtic are also watching. Alloa also had a couple of boys who played for Celtic’s youth team. Connor McManus and Michael Duffy, playing and, like me, it’s good for them to be out getting games.”
McCart would certainly have liked what he saw, Henderson along with fellow midfielders John McGinn and Dylan McGeouch, back at Easter Road on a permanent basis after a loan spell in the Capital, for the man of the match award, his first goal for Hibs, the opener in a comfortable 3-0 win, capping his day.
The youngster said: “I was delighted to get my goal, but the more important thing was the three points. I’d scored a couple of goals for Celtic and managed a few when I was on loan with Rosenborg in Norway earlier in the year but that’s something I want to add to my game, getting into the box and getting more goals.”
His goal was perfectly timed, coming a minute before half-time as Danny Lennon’s side set out to frustrate Hibs, getting ten men behind the ball and smothering space in and around their penalty area, the breakthrough followed by second half strikes from top scorer Jason Cummings and McGinn, his first for the club and the result of a clever spot from Henderson as he prepared to take a corner.
He said: “It’s going to be that way – teams will come to Easter Road and camp in. But the boys just kept saying ‘it’ll come, it’ll come’, that it was just a matter of time and once we got the goal you could see we played even more freely.
“We also got the feeling from the crowd, that they enjoyed the game and that’s the main thing, entertaining them and, of course, getting goals and the points. We’ve been given the freedom to go and express ourselves, to try things and even if they didn’t come off at times you could sense the crowd appreciated what we were trying to do.”
But if along with McGinn and McGeouch he caught the eye, Henderson highlighted the role played by Marvin Bartley as the midfield “sitter”, saying: “We’ve got plenty of options going forward, but having big Marv behind us gives us that freedom. He does a great job which maybe goes a bit un-noticed, but not by his team-mates.
“And behind him there’s Mark Oxley and the back four, who’ve now clocked up three successive clean sheets. Again, that gives us the foundation to go and play.”
While much of the focus in recent days has been the plethora of strikers Stubbs has gathered, it was somewhat ironic that two of the goals came from the midfield, Henderson not only over-joyed with his but to have played a part in setting up McGinn’s. He said: “I was more delighted for John than myself.
“The credit, though, has to go to the coaching team, who’d spotted the opportunity was there to play that pass from the corner. I managed to pick John out and he put it away. You could see from our celebrations we are a tight unit, everybody was celebrating together. We’re dead close, everyone has a good laugh as well as putting in the hard work.
“We just want to win games, we want them to keep coming thick and fast as we are all thoroughly enjoying ourselves.
“We have gelled pretty quickly given there’s so many new players, but when you have quality players things can click quite quickly. It’s a young team but we’re all vibrant, hungry and looking for success as well. Maybe some of us want to prove people wrong and to repay the manager for the faith shown in us.
“Everyone is loving coming into training. The team spirit is excellent and it’s a great bunch of boys to be part of. It’s a really strong squad which gives the manager plenty of options but, I’d imagine, a few headaches too.
“Everyone is training hard, chomping at the bit to be in the team, so there’s healthy competition as we saw at the weekend with the likes of Dominique Malonga, Martin Boyle and Islam Feruz coming off the bench before you even start looking at those who didn’t and those who weren’t in the squad this time.
“It means we are pushing each other all the time and that’s what all good teams have, a big squad with a lot of players to come in and knowing each and everyone of us is more than capable and has the quality to add to the team.”
The importance of maintaining that winning habit isn’t lost on Henderson and his team-mates, Championship leaders Rangers nine points clear of them although Stubbs’ players have a game in hand although, like his manager, the midfielder believes the recent game at Ibrox which the Glasgow club won 1-0 could easily have gone the other way.
He said: “They had maybe three chances but we had two or three big chances that we squandered but I am sure if we keep going the way we are then we’ll definitely catch them and push them all the way.”