Darren McGregor has admitted Neil Lennon’s Hibs squad is short on numbers but he views the situation as a chance for the Easter Road kids who joined the first team at their winter training camp in Dubai to stake their claim.
Youngsters Sean Mackie, Kevin Dabrowski, Jamie Gullan, Ben Stirling, Lewis Allan and Fraser Murray all found themselves jetting out to the Middle East with injury having deprived Lennon of Lewis Stevenson, Ofir Marciano, Thomas Agyepong and Martin Boyle while Mark Milligan and Jamie Maclaren were in the United Arab Emirates but on international duty with Australia.
And McGregor believes those younger players should be looking to have used the week in the sunshine to force their way into Lennon’s plans.
The defender said: “Oli Shaw and Ryan Porteous are firm fixtures now while Sean has been great in the few matches he’s played so far.
“Watching training out there, Fraser Murray is now over his injury issues and I think he will be a right find when he gets up to speed. The squad is thin but these guys have to take it upon themselves now. They are still young men – 18, 19, 20 – but this is their opportunity. A door has closed in one sense, but another opens.
“The challenge for them is they’ve been taken to Dubai at 18 or 19, with very little experience in the first team, to learn from the older players, the more experienced players and stake a claim because this is a prime opportunity for those guys to try to get into the first team and make their name from this point onwards. Ryan Gauld will add a new dimension and will be interesting but we are still a bit light on numbers. It’s an opportunity for these guys and others who have been on the periphery for a while to get in and stake a claim.”
McGregor himself was sidelined for weeks after suffering a knee injury during the Europa League match against Asteras Tripolis in Greece but, he insisted, that early start to the season didn’t explain away what has been a crippling casualty list with only Efe Ambrose, before his exit, and Steven Whittaker having been available for every game.
“It’s been incredible with injuries. They’ve been numerous, bad ones. I’m not the person to ask why that’s happened. Yes, we had that early start in Europe but Celtic will say they have that every season.
“I think sometimes you just get unlucky. Look at Lewy; when was the last time he was injured? Since I have been here I’ve never known him to be injured. Sometimes over the course of your career you pick up niggles. It’s just a fact that in today’s game you have to be overcautious. If it’s a hamstring and you push it, tear it then you are looking at eight weeks as opposed to one week resting.”
Hibs’ injury problems have largely been overlooked but, insisted McGregor, that’s no excuse for what he admitted was a disappointing first half to the season.
He said: “As a neutral, you would look at is as an excuse but the one thing I don’t want to do is use injuries as an excuse because I think other teams have had their share of injuries.
“Has it hindered us? Of course it has, but you just have to get on with it and can’t make too big a deal of it.
“We know we are thin on the ground and injuries have played a part in it and we’ve under-performed, but paying fans don’t want to hear that as an excuse for being beaten or drawing. We have to get on with it.
“It gives everyone else the chance to stake a claim. I was injured at the start of the season, came back but found it hard to get in with the emergence of Ryan Porteous who has been outstanding since the get-go.
“That area is probably one of the strongest in the team. We’re going to miss Efe, but I feel we can cope with myself, Paul [Hanlon] and Ryan while Mark Milligan plays for Australia. There’s adequate cover.
“I’m not sure if the gaffer is looking for anyone to come into that position, but we definitely need to add to the squad.”