It may be Hibs’ last warm-up match before the real action begins, but Darren McGregor knows boss Neil Lennon will expect his players to attack tomorrow’s match against Shrewsbury Town with exactly the same intensity they did their Europa League Cup tie with Danish outfit Brondby.
The trip to Greenhous Meadow represents a final chance for Lennon’s players to stake their claim to be in from the off as the Championship gets underway at Falkirk and with a number of them having caught his eye as he fielded very much a second string against Birmingham City, McGregor knows his manager won’t shy away from swinging the axe on anyone he perceives as taking things lightly.
The big defender said: “Shrewsbury will still be a difficult team with the physicality of League One in England. It’s all about momentum, the gaffer won’t let us go there and think ‘we can’t quite get up for this, we don’t fancy it’.
“That’s not going to happen, there will be guys getting dropped and guys getting put in their place. We know exactly what he expects. From day one he came in and made it abundantly clear the standards he sets as a manager.
“As a player I watched him quite a lot and I saw his tenacity, and I knew exactly the kind of person he would be. That has transferred into management. He doesn’t beat about the bush, he’ll tell you how it is. I like that, sometimes you need it.”
Although ultimately disappointed to have been knocked out of Europe by Brondby, McGregor believes he and his team-mates can take much from the experience, particularly the second leg of the tie in Copenhagen when they overcame the loss of the first match in Edinburgh to level affairs through skipper David Gray’s header only to be beaten on penalties.
“We can take so many positives, to go there in a European game, away from home, to not concede and also score a goal. I’d like to think the manager has been encouraged by what he saw in those two matches against Brondby. Hibs have been tarred with being soft in the past, but I look around the dressing-room and I see loads of strong characters.
“It’s maybe just an easy thing to say because we’ve lost a few late goals and what-not. I don’t see that and with the gaffer coming in and the type of person he is, if that steeliness isn’t present in games he’ll make sure it is, either at half-time or full-time. He’s just got that aura about him but, also, I think he can have a laugh and a giggle at the right time.”
With Hearts and Rangers out of the Championship, Hibs have been made firm favourites to take the title this season and automatically assure themselves of promotion at the third time of asking but McGregor says fans shouldn’t expect things to go Hibs’ way throughout the campaign.
The former Cowdenbeath, St Mirren and Rangers player said: “I think deep down a lot of fans, in hindsight, would have taken the celebrations of the Scottish Cup and putting the hoodoo to bed ahead of actually going up.
“But I think three years in the Championship is enough, we need to make amends for seasons gone by. It’s not going to be an easy ask. You’ve seen a lot of Premiership teams struggle against lower-league teams in the Betfred Cup recently.
“We’ve been doing that for the last two seasons and it’s difficult. Teams like Dunfermline and Dundee United will make it difficult for us. But I think we’re more than capable with the players we’ve got and the gaffer coming in will put demands on us to go and do it.
“You could argue that maybe it should have been last season, but we faltered at the last step. This season, I think it’s there for us but United will add a different dynamic and Dunfermline will be on a high after coming up from League One.
“I’m sure there will be a wee bit of needle there in the first game with Falkirk because we’ve had good games with them. We need to believe we can go there and win. They will be up there challenging so it will be good to put down a marker.
“But to say that the outcome of that game will have a say in what happens in May next year would be premature.
“Nobody has a given right to win it. I’m not going to say because I play with Hibs and we have x, y and z, there’s no excuses. What we have to do is work hard. The application, whether it’s home to Raith or away to Raith, has to be spot on and the mindset needs to be the same.
“That’s what we have learned from the past, that you need to be 100 per cent all the time. You are going to these places and you’re seen as a scalp and teams want to perform against us because we’re allegedly better players.
“We need to be wise to that. The reason Rangers won it last season was because they were consistent. They went away from home and instead of losing the last-minute goals we were maybe prone to do, they would grind out a 1-0 or a 2-1.
“We need to get that steeliness about us. I think we’ve learned and we’ll have that about us this season.”