Hibs must let football do talking at Cappielow – John McGinn

John McGinn battles with Mortons Jamie Lindsay
John McGinn battles with Mortons Jamie Lindsay
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What happened the last time Hibs and Morton met has commanded plenty of column inches since, with everyone anxious to have his say on the explosive ending to the match at Easter Road a week past Wednesday.

The final chapter in that particular episode appears to have been written with Darren McGregor having the red card which threatened to see him hit with a two-match ban rescinded, the Hibs defender not guilty of, as was claimed, headbutting Kudus Oyenuga only days after the Morton player himself was cleared of feigning injury to con referee Nick Walsh.

You can’t help but feel, however, that there’s still plenty of bad blood running between the clubs, manager Neil Lennon and Jim Duffy having been at odds with each other, the pair having been charged by the SFA for their part in proceedings.

But tomorrow these two clubs must do battle again, this time at Cappielow with the stakes no lower than ten days ago. Hibs know a victory will take them a massive step towards the Championship title and Morton are well aware nothing less than a win awill do or their already slim chance of overhauling the Capital outfit will come to an end.

Whatever the outcome, insisted Hibs midfielder John McGinn, he fervently hopes he and his team-mates can let their football do the talking and prove why they are the best team in the league.

Referee Bobby Madden is no doubt contemplating a busy afternoon with feelings still running high, the few days which have passed giving little time for tempers to have totally cooled.

McGinn, though, has no such worries. The Scotland star said: “I don’t think it’s difficult at all to be playing Morton again so soon.

“All the players know what is at stake, how important the three points will be and that’s what we are focusing on.

“Of course, there will be a bit of an atmosphere, the fans will no doubt be having a bit of a go at each other but while it is always a difficult place to go we’ll be looking to get the ball down, play as we can and show we are the best team in this league.”

McGinn accepts the mayhem which descended at the end of previous match has turned the spotlight on tomorrow’s proceedings, saying: “People latch on to it and try to make something of it.

“However, at the end of the day, we will let our football do the talking. We want to prove we are at the top of the league for a reason although we know we have not been at our best in the last few weeks.”

If McGinn expects cool heads and composure to win the day, he admitted none of Lennon’s players will be found wanting if needs must.

He said: “If anything happens to one of your team-mates you obviously have to stand up for him but we don’t want to get involved in things.

“Bobby Madden is one of the best referees in the country. He’s refereed in more hostile environments than Cappielow, he’s done it at the highest level so there’s no doubt he’ll be in control of the game.”

While Morton may have surprised a few in finding themselves still in the title race with only a few matches remaining, particularly given the players Duffy lost last summer, most notably Declan McManus and Derry Johnstone, McGinn has not been surprised.

He said: “They recruited very well last summer. I know a few of the boys and what they are capable of. They are good players.

“Morton deserve to be where they are in the league. They are perhaps punching above their weight budget-wise but you can’t beat team spirit and camaraderie which they seem to have in abundance. But we have that too although I think we have that extra bit of quality we have to show tomorrow.

“At the start of the season, everyone was saying it was going to be a two-horse race between us and Dundee United but, fair play to Falkirk, again, and Morton in making it a four-horse race.

“Even at this stage of the season there’s something in every game to be played for no matter who you are playing. There are no easy rides, there are no ‘nothing’ games so it’s up to us to get out there and make sure we get ourselves over the line.”

In recent weeks, Hibs have been in a similar situation, approaching matches knowing a win will take them that bit closer to their goal of promotion to the Premiership only to have stuttered, a nine-point lead preserved by the fact the chasing pack, Falkirk, Morton and Dundee United have also stumbled.

However, with the Bairns and United meeting tomorrow, McGinn acknowledged the significance of a victory and, he admitted, he’s looking for his old club St Mirren to lend a helping hand when they face Morton next midweek in what is a game in hand for the Greenock club.

The 22-year-old, whose brother Stephen plays for the rejuvenated Saints, said: “I’ve never played in a Renfrewshire derby, but I’m aware of the rivalry.

“I’ve spoken to my brother and Saints are on a great run at the moment. So that means Morton have two massive games in the space of a few days. Hopefully, we can unsettle them and St Mirren can do the same next week.”

While only time will tell how tomorrow’s match pans out, McGinn admitted Hibs had already enjoyed one positive result in McGregor’s red card being rescinded and replaced by a yellow, freeing him to make the trip along the M8 at a time when injury has shorn Lennon’s squad of his fellow central defenders Paul Hanlon, Liam Fontaine and Jordon Forster.

He said of his former Buddies team-mate: “To be honest, I wasn’t surprised. He’s gone over to protect his team-mate [Forster after he’d been flattened by Oyenuga] and there was no-one more mortified than me when I saw the red card.

“I’ve played with Darren for a long time and I knew it was not a red card and I was delighted to see common sense prevail. Darren has been a big player for us all season. There’s been a lot of changes in the middle at the back because of injury but he has been the one constant.

“Darren has been terrific. He’s hard as nails and quick and I think you’d be pushed to find a better defender in the country.”

McGinn went close to giving Hibs the lead against Morton last time, a powerful shot crashing back off the post after just 41 seconds in a game which ended goalless but hammered home the opener against Dunfermline, again from range, something he admitted he has been working on.

He said: “I was unlucky in the last game but over the moon and a bit relieved to score against Dunfermline. Hopefully, if I can get a few more like that you can start calling them my ‘trademark’.”