Dundee United’s young guns may have grabbed all the headlines this season, but Ryan McGivern reckons the latest crop of Hibs kids could more than match them.
The likes of Ryan Gauld, John Souttar, Andrew Robertson and Stuart Armstrong have all made a huge impact on United’s first team, taking Jackie McNamara’s side on a six-game winning streak earlier this term – one, albeit, that has been brought to a shuddering halt by three defeats in as many games.
Celtic boss Neil Lennon is rumoured to be eyeing their progress, while English Premiership and top European sides are also reported to be weighing up moves.
Hibs, though, who bagged victory in the New Year derby over Hearts on Thursday night, have quietly worked to bring through their own batch of young players – a number of whom have gone on to become mainstays of the side.
Twenty-year-old Jordon Forster has been a regular feature in Terry Butcher’s starting XI, while striker Jason Cummings, 18, has started the Hibees’ last four games. Add to the mix the likes of the injured Alex Harris, whose progress has only been hampered by injury, Danny Handling, Ross Caldwell and Sam Stanton, and Hibs’ future looks bright.
McGivern has certainly been impressed by the latest crop of talent to emerge from the Hibs academy and he is looking forward to seeing how they match up to their counterparts when they travel to face United at Tannadice tomorrow on league business.
The Northern Irishman said: “Their young boys have been given a chance and they have taken it, there are four or five top quality youngsters at least. But if you look at our side, the likes of Sam Stanton, Jordon Forster, Ross Caldwell, Danny Handling and Jason Cummings have all broke through and done well for us.
“Jason has done really well. I know that he hasn’t scored a first-team goal yet, but I really think that it is only a matter of time because his workrate has been exceptional. He has scored a phenomenal amount of goals for the Under 20s and he is going to be a great one for the future. He and James Collins are working their socks off right now and I think that the side will see the rewards for that.
“That’s what the manager wants and over the last five or six games you’ve really seen them develop.
“Jordon, too, has been asked to play in a bit of a different role by the manager. He’s done brilliantly for us and I thought that he had another great game against Hearts on Thursday night. He was up and down that wing like Cafu!
“It’s all about taking your chance when it comes along and I think that all of the boys that I have mentioned there have done exactly that.”
United go into tomorrow’s match off the back of that miserable three-game run which has seen them fail to pick up a single point. In stark contrast, Hibs have now won their last three matches on the bounce and McGivern is keen to see them continue in the same vein.
He believes that their strikers have a crucial role to play at both ends of the park in achieving that and continued: “I don’t really think that their last few results really matter. They have obviously had a few disappointments lately, but they are a very good side, we know that.
“They’ve had a bit of a bad run of games, but I think that every team goes through that kind of spell at some stage in the season. We know that they have got a lot of good young players – but so do we – and we are determined to keep our good run going.
“People have maybe been talking about the number of clean sheets that we have had, but our strikers have probably been the best two defenders on the pitch.
“They set the tone for us up top and if they do a shift like that then it makes life easier for the boys at the back.”
Easter Road was packed to the rafters on Thursday night and the Hibs supporters in the 20,106 crowd had the stadium absolutely rocking throughout the 2-1 victory over Hearts.
A second-half goal from Collins and a late penalty from skipper Liam Craig were enough to hand Hibs all three points, with an unfortunate own goal by McGivern sandwiched in between. It was Hibs’ first win over Hearts in three attempts this season and McGivern reckoned that it was the best atmosphere he has ever played in at their home ground.
He is hoping that their improved form under Terry Butcher will give the fans even more to shout about in the weeks to come.
The derby win not only gave the Hibs supporters bragging rights over their rivals, but also lifted their side into the top six and now McGivern wants to see them capitalise on the momentum that they have built up by pushing as far up the table as they possibly can.
“The fans were absolutely terrific on Thursday night,” he added. “Obviously it’s our job to give them something to shout about and I think that we are starting to do that. The atmosphere was fantastic and that is probably the best that I have seen and heard the stadium since I came here.
“It was a great game to be involved in, the atmosphere adds so much to a match and, although I know it maybe wasn’t the best of games for the neutral to watch, I am sure that all of the Hibs fans will have gone home more than happy. There’s no better way to start your year off than to get a win over your biggest rivals.
“We knew that it wasn’t going to be pretty, but the aim before the game was to get the win and we were determined to do that, regardless of anything else.
“We’re in the top six now and that was one of our main aims at the start of the season.
“It’s no secret that we suffered a bit of a dip in form and we’ve been in the bottom half of the table for too long.
“The manager has tweaked a few things here and there and I think that we are starting to get the rewards for it now.”