Paul Hegarty admits he was “staggered” to learn of Hibs’ 6-2 humbling by Rangers but, the Montrose boss insisted, that’s going to make life even tougher for his League Two side when they arrive at Easter Road for this weekend’s League Cup first-round clash.
Hegarty knows full well that the Easter Road club’s pride has been badly hurt by that mauling from their Championship rivals and that they’ll be determined to take it out on their next opponents, his part-timers.
So the already formidable test for a club which only just held onto its SPFL status a few months ago promises to be even tougher, although Hegarty will retain his hope that Montrose can upset the odds and give Hibs head coach Alan Stubbs further food for thought only days before the new league campaign kicks off.
The Links Park club suffered their own setback at the weekend, also making an exit from the Petrofac Training Cup, beaten by a late deflected goal from Iain Campbell in an Angus derby with Forfar Athletic. But as disappointed as he was, the former Dundee United and Scotland defender believes he saw enough from his new-look side to be travelling to Edinburgh with at least some semblance of hope.
He said: “Easter Road is a lovely stadium, a ground I know well and a great place to play. There’ll be a crowd, I’d imagine of maybe 7000 or 8000, which will be massive compared to what our players are used to, so it’s important we go there and give a good account of ourselves.
“Hopefully the surroundings and the crowd will inspire my players. As a professional football player you want to play at the best grounds. When draw was being made we were hoping that it might be at Links Park, where we’d be guaranteed a sell-out crowd and it might have been a wee bit more helpful to us going through.
“It’ll be a case of trying to make it as difficult as possible for Hibs, but, like any game, it’s what we do on the day. Hibs will obviously want to get back to winning ways after what happened. To be honest, I never saw that result coming because Hibs had done ever so well last season, beating Rangers 4-0 at home, winning twice at Ibrox.
“The scoreline was staggering for everyone. Well, it certainly was for me. But Alan Stubbs has a good squad and we have to make sure we keep it as tight as we can, that we don’t give them too many opportunities to score. However, at the same time we want to create opportunities for ourselves and hopefully give Hibs one or two edgy moments.
“Hibs are obviously expected to win. They’ve got a lot of very good players, strength in depth and we know it will be difficult for us.”
Having said that, Hegarty revealed he was heartened by his team’s performance at Station Park, admitting their pre-season displays had been disappointing,
The former Hearts coach said: “We didn’t play particularly well in pre-season but Saturday was a vast improvement. We played very well and Forfar’s manager Dick Campbell was very complimentary about us afterwards.
We were disappointed to be knocked out by our local rivals, but I spoke to the players, told them I was pleased with the performance, while also telling them they have to make sure they have to try to maintain or improve the standards they showed at Station Park.
“Forfar are a league above us, but Hibs are two leagues up so obviously it’s going to be difficult. You’d expect a tough game at Easter Road at any time, but coming off that result it will be even tougher but it’s one we are all looking forward to.”
Although he became Montrose boss in February, Hegarty, who has also managed at Forfar, Dundee United, Aberdeen and Livingston in addition to a wealth of coaching experience, including being part of George Burley’s Scotland set-up, has found himself very much in the situation Stubbs was a year ago, engaged in a race against time to put a squad together for this season.
Montrose’s place in League Two was only assured after they’d found themselves embroiled in the new play-off system which saw them face Brora Rangers in a two-legged affair, one which they won 3-2 on aggregate, but not without a couple of frights, losing the first leg and then needing late goals from Marvin Andrews and Garry Wood to see them home.
The uncertainty that situation caused left Hegarty and his assistant John Holt, who weren’t even sure of their own futures at one point, up against it, with the likes of ex-Rangers and Trinidad and Tobago defender Andrews having left the club.
Even now, the effects of that situation are being felt with Hegarty reckoning he’s still three or four players short, two trialists on the bench making up his full complement last weekend.
He said: “We were very fortunate to stay in the SPFL because Brora are a very good side. We just managed to get over the finishing line with 15 minutes to spare but it did mean our season went on two weeks longer than normal. We didn’t know what league we were going to be in, John and I didn’t know if we were still going to be here or if the club wanted to go down another road,
“It’s made the last five or six weeks quite difficult. Other clubs have been able to speak to players before us, we had a pre-season schedule to put together and games to organise. It’s been a case of playing catch-up and obviously there have been a few changes.”
Hegarty has brought in goalkeeper Jordan Millar and defender Matty Allan on loan from St Johnstone and Dundee respectively, along with the experience of former player Gary Fraser, recruited from Jeanfield Swifts, and others such as Greg Cameron, Andrew Steeves and Ryan Ferguson who know their way round the lower leagues as well as youngsters like Jordan Reoch and Dale Reid, signed from local junior club Montrose Roselea.
The Links Park boss said: “We’ve brought in a number of local boys, who’ve played in the Angus area and I’m sure they’ll be relishing the chance to play at Easter Road.
“We know we played well against Forfar and hope to do so again this weekend but also then look to take that into our first league game away to Berwick Rangers the following Saturday.”