Hibs players of recent years have regularly been the subject of unfavourable comparisons with those who flourished to such impressive effect under Tony Mowbray almost a decade ago.
However, former striker Keith Wright believes that, in the shape of Scott Allan, the Easter Road support now have a talent who would be good enough to hold his own in that swashbuckling team which illuminated Scottish football in the mid-Noughties.
Scott Brown and Kevin Thomson were the young pups driving Mogga’s side from midfield, and Wright believes that Allan, 22, has, over the past couple of months, shown form that would have him on a par with that esteemed homegrown duo when they were his age.
“Scott Allan’s the sort of player the Hibs fans have been crying out for over the past few years,” said Wright, a Hibs supporter himself. “The midfield area has been the missing link for Hibs for a good few years now, but Allan looks like he could be the answer. He’s playing at that level that Kevin Thomson and Scott Brown were playing at when they broke through in that good Hibs team.
“When I watched those young boys come into the team, it was their level of consistency that meant they got their chance and stayed in the team. Scott is a similar type of player to those as he excites the fans. He knows that he’s good enough to play for Hibs and beyond. He would probably have got a game in that midfield [alongside Brown and Thomson] because of the type of player he is.
“You feel something’s always going to happen when he’s involved in the play, and that’s what’s been missing in the last few years. Hibs have traditionally had good midfielders like Russell Latapy and Guillaume Beuzelin who can create something out of nothing. Allan is that type of player.”
Allan was last week hailed by manager Alan Stubbs as being “as good as anyone in the league”. Ordinarily, being described as the best player in Scotland’s second tier wouldn’t be considered a significant accolade for a young man who has already been the subject of a six-figure transfer to an English Premier League club, but this season, of course, Allan is shining in a division also containing the heavyweights of Hearts and Rangers. “On current form, I don’t think you could argue that he isn’t one of the top players in the Championship,” said Wright. “There’s no doubt he is. He’s shown a good level of consistency over the past couple of months. He’s played at a good level before and he’s probably grabbing his second chance.
“He’ll be looking to take Hibs to the next level because he’s definitely a top-level player. He’s certainly proving he’s better than Scottish Championship level. It’s up to him, having had a wee taste of it down south, if he wants to go back and play at the top level. I don’t know what went wrong for him down south, but you can see what an intelligent player he is.”
Wright knows that as long as Allan’s performances remain at a high level, the danger increases of the former Dundee United midfielder attracting interest from elsewhere. He is currently contracted to Hibs until the end of next season. “Hopefully, he is the answer for Hibs and he enjoys it here and takes Hibs to the next level and becomes a mainstay in the midfield for a few years to come,” said Wright.
The form of Allan and his colleagues over the past couple of months has raised hopes that Hibs can embark on a Scottish Cup run which takes them deep into the competition. Buoyed by an eight-game undefeated run in the Championship, allied to a five-game winning streak away from home in all competitions, Hibs head to Alloa Athletic hoping to kick-start their latest mission to land the Scottish Cup for the first time since 1902.
“It’s always the same with the Scottish Cup and Hibs – every year we mark out the date of the final on our calendars, keep our fingers crossed and say ‘it could be this year’,” said Wright. “There are five all-Premiership ties, so a few top teams are going to go out this weekend, but, you never know, it could be this fairly new group of players that finally take us all the way.
“A cup run would be massive because it would help inspire the players and keep the momentum going for the league campaign. If you’re in the cup everybody’s wondering who you’ve got in the next round and the players are on their toes because they want to play in the big cup games. If you’ve got a cup run as well as consistent league form, it’s a happy place. It’s all looking good for the coming weeks, but we’ve got to show consistency because we can’t afford any more slip-ups.”
The last time Hibs went to Alloa, at the end of August, they suffered a 2-1 defeat in arguably their worst performance of the season. It was their third successive league defeat and the fed-up Hibs fans were not slow to vent their fury.
Wright believes the team, who have suffered only one defeat since that Recreation Park humbling, have improved significantly in the intervening three months, with Allan, Liam Fontaine and Dominique Malonga getting used to their new surroundings.
“The team is definitely in better shape this time round than it was last time they went to Alloa,” said Wright. “I’d expect to see a different Hibs performance this weekend [compared to August]. The players they’ve brought in are looking like really good players. It took a bit of time for some of the new boys to find their feet playing for Hibs, but they definitely look like they’re getting there now.
“They’re showing some good form whereas earlier in the season they were new to the club and still getting used to what the manager wanted them to do. After scoring six at Dumbarton last weekend, they’ll go into it full of confidence.”
It is an occupational hazard of being a Hibs player that trips to less-salubrious surroundings in the Scottish Cup are always considered high risk. While optimism is gradually building among the fanbase as a result of the improved form of Stubbs’ team, a first-hurdle exit at the hands of part-time Alloa would represent a major setback. Wright is confident Hibs are equipped to get into the fifth round, but knows progress is unlikely to be smooth at a venue where Alloa have taken points from both Hibs and Rangers, and run Hearts close.
“It’ll be a difficult tie on the 3G surface,” said Wright, the 49-year-old former Cowdenbeath manager. “Hibs have been there already and Alloa have proved that they’re a tough team to beat at home. They’ve also got Liam Buchanan, who I’ve known since he was a young boy. I know him well from my Cowdenbeath days and he’s a big Hibs supporter, so he’ll have something to say on Saturday. It was his ambition to play for Hibs one day and he never quite managed it, so he’ll be well up for it and wanting to show the Hibs fans what they’re missing.”