Striker Grant Holt has declared himself “good to go” after pulling on a Hibs shirt for the first time, adamant it signalled the end of 17 months of injury hell.
The veteran played 76 minutes of the club’s first pre-season friendly against Berwick Rangers and is ready to pull on the green and white again tonight as Neil Lennon’s players face League Two newcomers Edinburgh City at Meadowbank.
Holt insists he is well and truly over the serious knee injury which stalled his career. The 35-year-old required cruciate ligament surgery after suffering the injury on Boxing Day 2014 while playing for Huddersfield against Rotherham, a match which, ironically, was to be his final game while on loan with the Terriers from Wigan Athletic.
Although he returned to make a few substitute appearances for Wigan last season, Holt’s contract was “mutually terminated”, resulting in a move to Rochdale where he managed just three starts before becoming a free agent. And that alerted Lennon, a one-time team-mate of Holt at Nottingham Forest, one of the Carlisle-born player’s many clubs although he’ll be best remembered for helping steer Norwich City from League One to the English Premier League in successive seasons, the new Hibs boss making him his first signing.
Now Holt is determined to repay that faith by playing his part in winning the Championship title and with it automatic promotion for the Easter Road club, adamant Shielfield Park represents just the first step on that journey.
He said: “The first game is always difficult but it’s good to get it out of the way. I enjoyed it. Berwick played well, moved the ball well and I thought it was a good game. We moved the ball well at times in the game and quickly and, with a bit more water on the pitch, we might have had a few more opportunities. But it was the first game pre-season and we are quite happy with that.”
As Lennon pointed out, getting game time into his squad is more important at this stage than results, all 22 players who had travelled getting a piece of the action with Holt not surprised to get as long as he did.
He said: “I’ve done quite a lot. I’m an old man, I know my stuff. Gone are the days when you had three or four weeks off doing whatever you wanted to do. Obviously with the injury I was coming back and went to Rochdale where I had a couple of starts. But I’d always highlighted the off-season to get back to where I wanted to be. It’s been good. I managed to do a lot of work on the knee, to get strong physically. I’ve done quite a lot of work, been running, doing other bits and pieces and played in a couple of charity matches. I got a good ‘pre-pre-season’ under my belt and that has been good for pre-season.”
Tuesday night offered Holt his first close-up look at Jason Cummings, Hibs’ top scorer in each of the past two seasons and, having helped play a part in a goal for the 20-year-old in just 12 seconds, he’s confident the pair can strike up a profitable partnership, the new arrival showing he’ll add a different, more physical presence up front while also displaying a deftness of touch and awareness of his team-mates’ positioning.
He said: “I’d heard bits and pieces about Jason, that he scores goals. There’s all the hype in the press, that he’s going here and there but he’s a player and a lad we want in our squad. He certainly showed his eye for goalscoring in just 12 seconds but overall I thought we looked good for a team that’s just started. We got into some good areas and, with a bit of luck and a few weeks into things, we’ll put more away.”
Hibs have only tonight’s match and Sunday’s friendly with Motherwell before they host the first leg of their Europa League second qualifying round – almost certainly against Danish side Brondby – Holt admitting he’s looking forward to the experience having previously played in the competition for Wigan against Rubin Kazan of Russia and Belgium club Waregem.
He said: “We’ve got two more games so we should be all right. I was fortunate enough to do it with Wigan. These are the kind of things you want to be involved in. We are in it, we want to get into the group stages. You don’t want to win the [Scottish] Cup and for that to be it. You want to push on. We have the opportunity to play in Europe and, as a group of players, it’s a fantastic achievement to be able to do that.”
Holt, however, made it clear promotion is by far the most important goal this season, saying: “Being from Carlisle, I know a lot about Scottish football, I read about it, watch games and I know Hibs shouldn’t be in this division.
“I think everyone knows they should be higher. By the end of the season, we want to win the league, we want to get into the Premiership and that’s what we’ll be aiming for from day one. I think everyone knows there were games where Hibs should have taken the paints but didn’t. We have to learn from that. There will be teams who are going to sit in and try to frustrate but we have to win those games.”
To that end, matches like tonight’s play their part, Holt admitting that while he knows the city of Edinburgh quite well, he’s not so familiar with Edinburgh City.
He said: “They obviously had a great season in getting themselves promoted. But pre-season is all about needing a balance, playing different teams, teams below you, teams above and then Brondby or Valur next week is a completely different challenge. I suppose tonight is a bit of an Edinburgh derby with City playing not so far away from Easter Road but when it’s all said and done, it’s pre-season, we’ll just be working on what we need to do.”