It is going to be a real quandary for Hibs manager Terry Butcher.
Team captains could be forgiven for assuming their name is the first on a manager’s team sheet, but in the case of Liam Craig, former Hibs skipper Ian Murray believes Butcher’s decision to restore Craig to the starting XI for this Saturday’s trip to Kilmarnock isn’t a certainty by any means.
Last weekend’s 2-1 triumph over Ross County at Easter Road, a match Craig was forced to sit out after incurring a one-game suspension, was the club’s first win since the New Year derby defeat of Hearts and a much-welcomed three points on the board to swing Hibs’ top-six aspirations back into contention.
With midfielders Sam Stanton and Tom Taiwo both finding the net against the Highland outfit, and Danny Handling also recalled to the first team, Dumbarton manager Murray believes Butcher’s decision to recall Craig for Saturday’s match in Ayrshire is one that requires some serious thought.
Murray told the Evening News: “I think it’s a tough one for him. Obviously Terry knows what he’s doing and he’s the man to answer that. The club has a few players coming back and good players that have done really well, but the bottom line is the team are winning.
“I think it will be difficult to change it, but Terry has Liam as his captain. I don’t know if the captaincy means you’re invincible and you can’t be dropped, but that probably all depends on the manager himself. Terry has come in and made a statement by making Liam Craig his captain so I think he will play – he sort of has to play him to back his own judgement, but it’s a big call because if Hibs go on and lose the game then it’s inevitable that everybody will look at that decision as one of the key factors.”
Craig was the hero the last time the sides met at Rugby Park in August last year, a brace from the former St Johnstone midfielder giving then manager Pat Fenlon’s side a 2-1 victory.
With Stanton, Taiwo, Alex Harris and Lewis Stevenson having occupied the midfield berths against Ross County, one would assume one from those mentioned will make way for Craig should Butcher opt to put his captain back in the fold.
Stanton, 19, is, however, one individual who has caught the eye of Murray, the teenager having netted in his previous two outings and looking every bit the player we have all come to expect from a surname that continues to resonate around all areas of Leith.
“It will set Sam in good stead and he’s not afraid, that’s for sure,” Murray said. “It’s so early in his career, but we’ve seen it so many times in the last five, ten years that when you build up a young player so quickly, they can fall flat on their face.
“But he’s got wise people behind him in Butcher and (Maurice) Malpas, so here’s hoping they can nurture him through, as he’s got a lot of talent. In terms of having guile on the ball, he’s as good as I’ve seen at Hibs for a few years.”
Having been awarded the Championship’s Manager of the Month for January, which included a trio of league wins over Morton, Cowdenbeath and Alloa, not to mention securing their place in the quarter-finals of the Scottish Cup where they face a stern test after being paired against League Cup finalists and high flying Aberdeen at Pittodrie, Murray has taken the Sons to unfamiliar territory with promotion to the top flight also within their sights.
He said: “We’ve managed to get a bit of consistency and we’ve dug out results when we’ve needed to. To be fair to the players, they were good up until Christmas, but, since the turn of the year, they’ve moved up another level. I think the league is a wee bit out of our grasp now as I think we’ve left it too late.
“If we had hit form earlier then we would have had a small chance [of winning the league], but in terms of the play-offs, without trying to blow our own trumpets too much, we certainly have to consider ourselves contenders.
“Aberdeen is a fantastic tie for us and when you look at the history of Dumbarton over the last few years, we haven’t had too many big games to be perfectly honest. We could have add an easier game, but it’s a great test and by no means impossible for us to get through.
“It was of course disappointing for Hibs and their fans that they didn’t progress as well, but I look at our league and say I am happy for Raith Rovers because it shows our league in a good light as well.
“I think it shows there isn’t as big a gulf as people think there is between the Championship and the Premiership and there are a lot of good players in the lower leagues.”