Darren McGregor: Hibs’ young guns can handle derby clash with Hearts

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Darren McGregor has backed Hibs’ young stars to step up to the plate as the Easter Road side go into tomorrow’s Edinburgh derby with a threadbare squad.

Boss Neil Lennon has no fewer than 11 players missing for the visit of Hearts, eight out injured and three away on international duty as Australia prepare to defend their Asian Cup crown.

Sean Mackie, who set up the equaliser, salutes the Hibs fans at Ibrox

Sean Mackie, who set up the equaliser, salutes the Hibs fans at Ibrox

Under FIFA rules, Hibs, with Martin Boyle, Mark Milligan and Jamie Maclaren having flown out to join the Socceroos squad in the United Arab Emirates immediately after Wednesday’s 1-1 draw with Rangers, could have asked for the match to be postponed.

They chose not to do so but Lennon, who has had to contend with a lengthy injury list throughout the first half of the season, was dealt another blow as Lewis Stevenson limped out of the action at Ibrox before half-time having damaged a hamstring.

Stevenson was ruled out of the derby straight away, joining Ofir Marciano, Ross Laidlaw, Marvin Bartley, Ryan Porteous, Thomas Agyepong, Harry Mavrias and Miquel Nelom on the treatment table.

The loss of goalkeepers Marciano and Laidlaw forced Lennon to recall 20-year-old Kevin Dabrowski – without a minute of first-team experience – from his loan spell with Civil Service Strollers as a back-up to Adam Bogdan.

As such, Lennon will have to lean heavily on the club’s academy players, striker Oli Shaw – a regular in his team – having been joined recently in the squad by Sean Mackie, Lewis Allan, Jamie Gullan.

Stevenson was replaced at Ibrox by Mackie, the 20-year-old making only his fifth first-team appearance and playing a major part as Hibs took a point, delivering the cross for McGregor to power a header beyond his Rangers namesake Allan.

The big defender, himself limited to just seven league starts this season by injury, said: “We’ve definitely picked up our fair share of injuries over the last couple of weeks but, as you saw, a young lad like Sean can come in. He was doing Cruyff turns, Zidane turns, in the middle of the pitch so he is full of confidence.

“Sometimes when a door closes, it opens for someone. I think we have a great crop of youngsters and this will give them the opportunity to showcase their skills.”

Lennon, who described Mackie’s 45-minute performance as “immense”, had the consolation of seeing Paul Hanlon start only his third match since late September and club captain David Gray appear as a substitute for his first taste of action in almost three months. However, the injuries suffered have prevented Hibs making the progress he had hoped for so far.

Lennon is thankful for the winter break which follows the visit of Hearts and hopeful of strengthening his squad in the January transfer window. He revealed he shall have to take a long, hard look at who is available before naming his side for tomorrow.

“We’ve lost the three Aussies, Marvin is training but it might be too soon for him. Ryan is going to be out for a long time and Lewis might be four to six weeks.

“It’s been difficult, a real balancing act this month. The injuries have stunted the progress we would like to make but we are heading in the right direction. The result at Ibrox will be a psychological boost for the players. They played more like the team they can be.

“But we cannot save it for Rangers and Celtic. We are unbeaten in six having not had a win in seven. That’s too inconsistent for my liking.”