Hibs' Ross Laidlaw aims to roll back the years at Cappielow
Hibs goalkeeper Ross Laidlaw is hoping to roll back the years tomorrow, recalling happy memories of previous tussles with Morton.
And he revealed he won’t be the only one heading for Cappielow reflecting on past exploits, striker Brian Graham having helped make his introduction to first-team football a day to remember with two goals in a 5-0 hammering of the Greenock outfit.
Laidlaw and Graham were team-mates at Raith Rovers that day almost five years ago, the pair having gone their separate ways in the intervening period only to be reunited at Easter Road with the common aim of returning the Capital club to the Premiership.
And Laidlaw admitted he’ll be banking on his old pal’s happy knack of scoring against his former clubs – Morton were Graham’s first employers all of a decade ago – to keep Hibs at the top of the Championship.
Recalling that day at Stark’s Park, 24-year-old Laidlaw said: “It’s a game I’ll always remember.
“Brian had put us ahead in the first half but then we took a bit of a battering only to come out and score four more in the second half.”
While Laidlaw stayed in Kirkcaldy, Graham’s goals took him on to Dundee United, St Johnstone and Ross County before his surprise move to Edinburgh in the summer where’s he’s taken his tally for the season into double figures, six of that number having come for the Staggies and so prompting Hibs boss Neil Lennon to offer him a two-year deal.
Graham was on target again last weekend as Lennon’s side defeated Dumbarton 2-0 to retain top spot on goal difference from title rivals Dundee United and Laidlaw insisted he wouldn’t bet against the 29-year-old being on target again in tomorrow evening’s televised match from the banks of the River Clyde.
He said: “I stayed with Raith while Brain moved on but then I came here in the summer only for him to join the club a few weeks later.
“It’s good to have him because he is a goal-scorer as we saw last weekend. I think he’s probably been a bit under-rated but if you look at his record he’s scored goals wherever he has gone.
“At Raith he worked hard in training on his finishing, he always put in that bit extra and it’s paid off for him. He’s scored in the Premiership and now he’s come here to help us out.”
Graham faces competition from veteran striker Grant Holt for that “targetman” role, but Laidlaw is confident that when given a run of games his old pal will come up with the goods.
He said: “I hadn’t realised he’d already got six for Ross County before he came here but the fact he is now on 11 is good going.
“He keeps a tally of the goals scored and like all strikers he sets himself a target and so he’ll be aiming to score again.
“There’s always a bit of banter between us in training. Every day he tells me how many he is going to score but he does work hard at his game and he’s done so to get back into the team.
“Brian also has this thing of scoring against his former teams. He did it against Raith and I know he’ll be hoping to do so against Morton.
“He’s really fired up and he’s been buzzing in training this week.”
If Graham’s aim is to put his name on the scoresheet and earn another three points, then Laidlaw has his own target, of adding to the nine clean sheets he and Israeli internationalist Ofir Marciano have kept in the league.
With Marciano ruled out for four weeks following minor knee surgery, Laidlaw has been handed an unexpected opportunity to enjoy an extended run of games, one which started with a clean sheet against Dumbarton.
In truth it was one easily claimed, Steven Aitken’s side unable to direct a single shot on target in the entire 90 minutes – not that Laidlaw was complaining.
And revealing his only other visit to Cappielow on first-team duty ended with a shut-out, he said: “That’s a record I want to keep going. Nine clean sheets between Ofir and myself in the league is something we are proud of but we have a rock solid defence which means sometimes we haven’t had much to do so that is a big factor in that achievement.
“I didn’t have anything to do last week and although you obviously want to show what you can do there are games like that when you only have a couple of crosses, a couple of kicks to make.
“The main thing, though, is the clean sheet. I’d take that any day over having a lot to do and losing a goal.
“Not conceding gives the team a platform. If we keep the opposition out and we score than we win the game.
“That’s what we have been working on this year, keeping it tight at the back.
“Hibs perhaps lost a few too many goals last season so we’ve been working on tightening it up and so far that’s paid off for us.”
Although tomorrow’s game takes place only a week before Christmas and is being televised live on BBC Alba, Laidlaw anticipates another bumper travelling support with Hibs sponsor Marathonbet having laid on 11 buses free of charge to take supporters to Greenock.
He said: “I think our fans like going to grounds like Cappielow, Somerset Park and Palmerston Park. They are a bit of a throwback but supporters seem to enjoy the surroundings, being able to stand on the terracing.
“Obviously the game is close to Christmas and is on television on a Saturday afternoon which might put a few off travelling but the fact Marathonbet have put on these buses to help them get through is great, although they don’t seem to have needed much incentive to come to away games because the support we’ve been getting has been fantastic.
“The boys have been talking about it and it will be great to see as many there as possible because they’ve been giving us great backing home and away all season.
“When I was at Raith we always looked forward to Hibs coming to town because we knew there would be a big crowd and a great atmosphere and having so many behind you does spur you on.”
Morton will be without Jai Quitongo who underwent a scan this morning on the knee injury he sustained in an accidental clash with Dunfermline goalkeeper Sean Murdoch last weekend.
Boss Jim Duffy said: “We won’t know anything until we get the results, but he is out tomorrow.”