As weekends go it couldn’t have gone much better for Liam Craig. His first two goals for Hibs had brought the under-pressure Easter Road outfit their first win of the season and, to cap it all, his baby daughter Jessica put in a surprise appearance the next day.
Little wonder, then, that Craig is looking forward to tomorrow’s return to Rugby Park with more than a few happy memories although, he admitted, he has his fingers crossed he’ll be leading Terry Butcher’s side out having been forced to miss last weekend’s victory over Ross County through suspension.
The Hibs boss has admitted the triumph over the Staggies, which ended a winless run of five matches, has left him swithering as to whether he should change a winning team, one which saw midfielders Sam Stanton and Tom Taiwo claim the goals that mattered.
Today Craig conceded he could have few complaints should Butcher opt for “same again,” revealing it was the celebrations in Ayrshire away back in August which helped sideline him and so leave Butcher fretting over his team selection this time round, referee Kevin Clancy flashing the yellow card at him after he’d run off the pitch to salute the travelling support behind Craig Samson’s goal.
Other bookings, of course, followed, adding up until the former Falkirk and St Johnstone star breached the SFA’s disciplinary threshhold so incurring the automatic suspension which reduced him to the role of spectator for, he hopes, one week only.
But while accepting some yellow cards are inevitable in the hurly-burly of the Scottish Premiership, particularly for players such as himself working in the engine room of their respective clubs, Craig admitted there had been “one or two” he might have avoided, with that one at Rugby Park very much in mind.
Such bookings have attracted sustained criticism from all corners with few understanding why players shouldn’t be allowed to express their joy in scoring the goals which supporters turn up every week hoping to see and while he’s obviously among that number, Craig accepts Clancy was simply “following orders.”
He said: “I’d scored my first two goals for the club, the second being the winner. I’d followed the ball in thinking my shot was going to hit the bar and I was aiming to be there for the rebound. But it’s gone in and I’ve run behind the goals, Rowan Vine has put me on his shoulders and the referee has booked me for leaving the field of play.
“If I remember correctly, the Hibs fans were in the top tier of the stand behind those goals that day so there was never going to be a riot or anything like that. It was disappointing but the referee was obviously following orders. But at the time it was brilliant. It was a massive result for us, we were under a lot of pressure after a poor start to the season and Barry Nicholson had put us behind with a wonder goal although we were probably in control for most of the game.
“Things weren’t as we had wanted, we’d gone a goal down and to come back and win was fantastic for us.
“It’s certainly a couple of days I won’t forget because the next day Jessica was born, arriving a couple of weeks early which was a wee bit of a shock to my wife Laura and I, but a nice shock. It was one of those Carlsberg weekends if you like, very special, a wee sister for our little boy Calvin.”
Craig’s goal sparked a run of four wins in five matches for Hibs and having suffered that recent slump he admitted Butcher’s players are hoping the victory over County will bring a repeat with all eyes firmly fixed on the top-six finish which was beginning to look as if it was slipping through their fingers.
He said: “We must build on last weekend’s result. We’ve narrowed the gap with St Johnstone although they have a game in hand. But we want to keep the pressure on them. If we win and the teams above us keep winning there’s not a lot we can do about it so we have to look after ourselves regardless of what St Johnstone, Dundee United or Inverness Caley might be doing.
“If we win tomorrow that could take us into the top six and that’s the aim.”
After the bitter disappointment of crashing out of the Scottish Cup to Championship side Raith Rovers, Craig is naturally desperate to get back into action following his enforced lay-off but, he agreed, it’s perhaps not as straightforward as that given the performance his team-mates produced against County, one in which Butcher believes they “got back to basics.”
Craig said: “It was a great result and a really good performance as well. We got those two early goals, great goals from our point-of-view, a lovely free-kick from Sammy and a great counter-attack goal from Tom, another two midfielders scoring which was great.
“We were excellent and thoroughly deserved the win. It was like the games just after Christmas when we beat Ross County on Boxing Day and then Killie when we did the basics right, working hard from the front, the strikers backed up by the midfield and the defenders getting behind the midfield making us hard to beat.
“But for whatever reason we lost some sloppy goals against Raith. That result is right up there as one of my biggest disappointments in football, but that’s what happens. We have a good squad but we have to be at it every week if we want to get good results. Fair play to the boys, though, they had the mentality after that to come back against a good Ross County side, one which had brought in a lot of new players in January.”
And therein lies the conundrum for Butcher, go with last week’s team or tinker with it. Either way Craig insisted he’ll accept his gaffer’s judgment. He said: “The manager is manager for a reason. The four across the middle of the park last week were excellent and if we are going to be successful, it is going to take a squad of players.
“Everyone has to be at it every week and if we are like that then we have the players to win football matches. At any club I’ve been at when we have had any sort of success everyone has played their part and it is no different here. We are going to pick up injuries and suspensions throughout the season and if you get your chance you have to take it.
“You need everyone pulling in the same direction and we definitely have that here. You have to earn your place in the team. To be fair to the boys that have come in they’ve been excellent and that’s going to give the manager a healthy headache.”