‘Bitter rivals, hostile atmosphere ... it’s what you’re here for’ - Hibs great on Rangers away days

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Scottish Cup hero says new faces will relish challenge of playing Rangers in Govan

A cauldron. A crucible. An eye-opening experience for those getting their first look at the place. And an opportunity for Nick Montgomery’s men to test themselves in one of the most proudly hostile environments in Scottish football.

Saturday’s trip to Ibrox arguably represents the toughest challenge yet for Monty’s Hibs, who head west buoyed by a six-game unbeaten run dating back to caretaker boss David Gray’s 2-0 win at Pittodrie at the start of September.

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In five games under new manager Montgomery, the Easter Road side have shown themselves more than capable of competing against the sort of Scottish Premiership opposition who make up the bulk of the country’s elite division. They’ve recovered from the slump that saw Lee Johnson depart, steadied themselves – and showed great character to fight back from 2-0 down at Tynecastle just before the international break.

That fortitude will certainly be needed this weekend, as Hibs rekindle a ‘special relationship’ that has become increasingly important – to both sets of fans – over the paste decade or so. From a Hibs perspective, this is a fixture second only to the derby in terms of passion.

“It’s an eye opener,” is how Darren McGregor puts it when asked to explain what the newer members of this Hibs squad can expect, the 2016 Scottish Cup winner adding: “But it’s what you’re here for. It’s why you’re at Hibs, why you’re in the SPFL, to test yourself at these places.

“Going to Tynecastle, to Ibrox, these places are cauldrons. But they’re unbelievable to play in, to experience football at its best, playing bitter rivals in an atmosphere that’s really hostile – when you can’t hear anybody ten yards away from you.

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“You gain so much from these experiences. So much valuable information about how you handle it.

“I always enjoyed these games, even if we didn’t win many at Ibrox. You wouldn’t expect to, just given the home advantage. But there have been some great games there.

“I’m sure there a few in the squad who haven’t experienced it. But I know the coaching staff will have been in similar situations, similar games.

“It’s special, going to somewhere like Ibrox. You just need to embrace it. And it helps that we can match any team in the SPFL when we play to our ability.”

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Leaving aside the new boss bounce likely to give Rangers a little extra spring in their steps, Hibs will face a fight just to let that ability shine through. There will be no breathing space afforded the visitors, no prospect of the home side being anything other than fully motivated to impress Clement – and draw a line under the dog days of the Michael Beale era.

Looking at the potential starting XI for Montgomery, he could pick as many as five players with zero experience of competing against Rangers at Ibrox. Will Fish was on the bench for last season’s 3-2 loss in Govan, but Lewis Miller was missing, Jimmy Jeggo didn’t arrive until a few weeks after that December meeting, while Dylan Vente and Jordan Obita are summer signings.

For the very newest recruits, is there any point in them learning about the history of the contest? It’s probably best if they don’t focus on the fact that Hibs haven’t won a league game at Ibrox since February 2018, with the fact that the scorers in that 2-1 victory were John McGinn and Jamie McLaren making it feel like some legend of old.

But there is more to this game than just scores on a stats sheet. Indelible memories involving David Gray and James Tavernier, Ryan Porteous and … well, everyone at Rangers, it seemed.

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McGregor, a late sub as Hibs beat Rangers at Hampden in the League Cup semi-final at Hampden a little under two years ago, feels there is something special about this game.

The former Rangers prospect, now under-18s coach at Hibs, said: “These games always seem to have a wee bit extra excitement about them. And I think this team is definitely good enough to go there and get a result.

“It shows you the resilience that the gaffer has built in the lads already, that they came from 2-0 down at Tynecastle.

“I was at the derby, in the away end. And that was the first time. I’ve played there about 20 times but had never been there as a fan, so it was quite exciting! You could tell that the fans really believe in what the manager is building.”

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