Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes today hailed Hibs skipper Liam Craig as a “natural-born leader” after watching him spearhead the Easter Road club’s revival.
McInnes made the former Falkirk midfielder his first signing as manager of St Johnstone for a bargain £25,000 as he played a major role in them winning promotion to the top flight.
Since arriving in Edinburgh as a free agent at the beginning of the season Craig has scored nine goals – three in his last two matches – and was handed the captain’s armband by new boss Terry Butcher at the start of a run in which Hibs have lost just one game in nine and forced their way into the top six of the Scottish Premiership.
McInnes believes Butcher has spotted the “special qualities” which made Craig a highly popular and influential figure within the McDiarmid Park dressing-room. He said: “Liam was someone I really enjoyed working with. He was a huge part of a successful St Johnstone team. He helped us win promotion because of his dead balls and his goals from open play were very important to us.
“He also played a key part in fostering the excellent team spirit we had at the club. It’s no surprise he’s gone on to become captain of Hibs. You get all different types of captains and Terry has clearly gone in there and identified the special qualities Liam displayed when he was at St Johnstone.
“He’s a great lad and very popular in the dressing-room, he’s a brilliant team-mate for all. Captains also tend to play in the majority of your games and Liam does that. He seems to be thriving on the added responsibility of being captain.
“I took him from Falkirk initially. We had to go to a tribunal to sort out the transfer and St Johnstone did very well out of that. They had to pay £12,500 up front and the same amount again if we won promotion. He more than paid his way at Perth.”
Although Aberdeen enjoyed a comfortable 2-0 win over Hibs at Easter Road earlier in the season, McInnes, who has seen the Dons march into second place in the table, admitted he’ll be wary of the resurgent Capital team when they arrive at Pittodrie tomorrow night.
He said: “The biggest compliment I can pay Terry is to say I’m not surprised how well they are doing. He’s got Hibs playing in a way that everyone on that pitch knows his role in the team. It’s what Terry did at Inverness, he always finds a way to get positive results. There is no doubt they are going to be tough opposition. We have played a lot of hard matches of late and this will be as hard as any of them.
“Hibs have always had a squad of very good players but Terry has restored confidence through consistency of selection which has led to better results. We know Hibs will ask question of us but they know they will be coming here expecting a tough match and it’s certainly what we will be trying to give them.”
Meanwhile, Hibs striker Rowan Vine has revealed he’s been told by Butcher that he’ll struggle to break into his team. The 31-year-old is one of four players – the others being Kevin Thomson, Tim Clancy and Tom Taiwo – whose futures are in question although the club has yet to confirm claims they’ve been told they are free to leave.
Clancy has already held talks with Irish outfit Derry City while Vine, Thomson and Taiwo appear to have become peripheral figures in recent weeks.