Hibs’ top scorer Liam Craig gunning for Hearts

Hibs player Liam Craig is fired up for tonight's League Cup clash with Hearts after claiming the match ball in the previous round, pictured below. Pictures: Ian Georgeson and Greg Macvean
Hibs player Liam Craig is fired up for tonight's League Cup clash with Hearts after claiming the match ball in the previous round, pictured below. Pictures: Ian Georgeson and Greg Macvean
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LIAM CRAIG hit a hat-trick to set up Hibs’ League Cup quarter-final clash with Hearts – and the midfielder admits he’ll be on the hunt for more goals at Easter Road tonight.

The midfielder is the Hibees’ top goalscorer so far this season, having hit the net six times for Pat Fenlon’s side.

His treble in the 5-3 win over Stranraer in the last round of the cup helped set up this tie and he is keen to add to his tally tonight when Hibs play host to their arch-rivals.

While some footballers play down the significance of the number of goals they claim, Craig quite happily admits that he loves seeing his name on the scoresheet.

The former Falkirk and St Johnstone star carries a threat from open play and dead-ball situations and is keen to weigh in with a few goals to help the Hibs attackers out.

“It is something that I take pride in,” Craig said. “I enjoy scoring goals and doing my bit for the team.

“It’s part of my game and that is one of the reasons the manager brought me here.

“I have scored a few already this season and I am looking to add to that.

“If I can score goals and help Hibs to be successful in the process, then that’s brilliant.”

The closest Craig has come to cup success in his career has been the semi-final stages, most recently losing to Motherwell with St Johnstone at Hampden in the Scottish Cup in 2011.

And you can sense a real determination about the player to put that right.

“The semi-finals are about as far as I have got so far,” he recalled.

“When I came to Hibs, I came here to be a success and, to do that, I think you really need to be looking to get to cup finals and winning trophies.

“That’s what we are looking to do and hopefully I can help the club achieve that.

“I think that it is something that we can achieve but, first of all, we have got a massive game tonight and we need to make sure that we get the right result in that one before we can start looking too far ahead.

“We know how hard it is going to be because Hearts have already beaten us this season, although this is obviously a totally different game.”

Should Hibs progress to the last four of the competition, it will be at the expense of Craig’s old team-mate – Hearts goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald.

They both played together as youngsters in the youth set-up at Hearts and know each other well. And it has been something of a source of pride for Craig to see MacDonald progress through the ranks to become Hearts No. 1 after a long time in the understudy role, although he would have no qualms about piling on the misery for the Jambos custodian at Easter Road tonight.

“I played alongside Jamie for a few seasons when I was a youth player at Hearts,” Craig revealed, “so I know him quite well.

“I think it just shows how hard it is now to make a living out of playing football because, out of a squad of maybe 16 players, we’re the only ones still playing the game full-time.

“It’s brilliant to see how Jamie has progressed since then and to see him doing well was great, especially when we were younger.

“He’s done well for himself in the game but hopefully he doesn’t do so well tonight.”

The match, which kicks-off earlier than normal at 7.00pm to accommodate live television coverage, is sure to be a huge occasion for both sets of fans.

Hearts have their own problems to deal with but, while the carrot of a place in the last four of the competition should be enough motivation for the Hibs players tonight, there is also the small matter of getting some kind of retribution for a 1-0 defeat suffered to Hearts in the early part of this season.

The two Edinburgh sides clashed in August at Tynecastle in only the second match of the SPFL campaign and, despite creating enough chances to win the match, Hibs ended up suffering defeat.

Callum Paterson scored the only goal that day, earning Hearts not only the points but also the bragging rights for their supporters.

After that day back in August, things seem to have clicked for Hibs as they went on a run of just one defeat in nine matches.

Craig admits the team were disappointed with both the result and performance in the 2-0 Premiership loss against Aberdeen last weekend, but reckons tonight’s occasion will see two sides fired up and on the top of their game.

He said: “It’s a massive game anyway. First and foremost, it is a derby and you always want to win those ones, no matter what is happening.

“Looking at the bigger picture, it’s a chance to get into the semi-final of the League Cup – and that’s the main thing for us.

“We had a few bad results at the start of the season and maybe that game came a little bit too soon for us.

“I think that we have shown the character in the squad since then, though, and we’ve come back from losing that derby.

“I feel that we have maybe turned a corner a little bit and got some positive results under our belts.

“The game against Aberdeen last weekend was disappointing for us but hopefully we can put that behind us tonight.

“We’re going into this game full of confidence, in a positive frame of mind and playing in front of our home fans.”

Focus on those in the stands this season has mainly centred on the Hearts supporters who have had to come out and back their side not only vocally but also financially following their descent into administration.

But Craig feels that the Hibs fans also deserve great credit for the way that they have stuck by their team despite a poor start to their SPFL campaign.

“A lot of praise has to go to our supporters as well because we had a bit of a difficult start to our season yet they are still there every week backing us.

“The noise they made at the Celtic game was immense and whenever we have been away from home they have been right behind us as well.

“They have been really excellent for us since I have been at the club and I think it is important, as players, that we give them some nights to remember and we’re looking to do that tonight.”