Ethan Laidlaw interview: Hibs forward on Youth League, injury comeback, and first-team hopes

When Ethan Laidlaw isn’t turning out for Hibs under-18s or development squad, it’s not unusual to see the boyhood Hibee in with the fans at home and away games.

The 17-year-old has packed a lot into the last 18 months – interest from Chelsea, Leeds, and Manchester United; trials with Liverpool and hat-tricks for Scotland under-17s, training with the senior squad as well as being part of the team to win the youth league last term and qualify for Europe.

So to take part in a dramatic penalty shoot-out win against Molde on the Easter Road turf after a spell out injured was the stuff of dreams.

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Molde success

His face is a picture as he tries to sum up the emotion of playing in such a memorable match at the stadium.

"It’s tough to sum it up,” he tells the Evening News in an exclusive interview, admitting that he was ‘absolutely blowing’ by full time. No surprise given the effort put in by the Hibs players against more experienced opposition – ‘a real David and Goliath battle’, first-team boss Lee Johnson will later call it.

"For me, being a Hibs fan and playing here… I’m not really sure what I was doing half the time.

"We started really well and the crowd helped massively but we maybe rested on it a wee bit after getting the goal.

Ethan Laidlaw celebrates Hibs' UEFA Youth League win against Molde with Murray Aiken. Picture: Maurice Dougan

"But if you’d offered us a 1-0 lead at half-time before the game we’d definitely have taken it so we went in at half-time, regrouped, and went back out.

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"I think it showed on the pitch; we got the second goal, we looked good to go through and then, Hibs being Hibs – can’t ever do things the easy way! – they scored to take it to penalties.

"We played Brechin earlier this season [in the SPFL Trust Trophy] and lost on penalties so I think that was at the back of our minds a bit, but everyone who stepped up did the business and Murray [Johnson] saved one… you can’t really ask for much more.”

Return from injury

Laidlaw in action for Scotland during a UEFA Under-17 Championship Qualifier against Germany and Scotland in March
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Laidlaw’s inclusion in the starting line-up was something of a surprise, the forward having been sidelined since late August and forced to wear a moon boot after suffering an injury in an under-18s league game against Rangers.

Given his allegiances, one suspects there was no chance of the forward missing the home tie.

"It was tough mentally, more than anything,” he says of his injury. "I wasn’t even involved in the first leg; didn’t fly over with the team. I was just in the gym doing my rehab stuff and trying my best to get back for the return leg.

"Thankfully I managed to get a few training sessions under my belt before this game – less than a week – and got prepared as best as I could.”

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Laidlaw is back from injury and wants to play in as many games as possible. Picture: Maurice Dougan

There was a bit of a learning curve for Laidlaw during the game as well, despite being deployed on the right of an attacking midfield trio in a 4-2-3-1 set-up.

"I was meant to be playing wide on the right but ended up getting pinned back at full-back with Josh McCulloch half the time, which I’ve never really done, but it is what it is and you do it for the team,” he explained.

Step up in quality

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Hibs host Nantes on October 26 before making the trip to France for the second leg on November 2 in another stern test for the team.

"The last game I played was against Rangers at under-18,” the forward says. “These games are nothing like what we’re up against on a regular basis.

"It’s one extreme to the other; playing against other 16 and 17 year olds who are trying to cement a place in the under-18s, to taking on guys playing in the Norwegian first division in a senior team that’s competing in Europe as well, so it’s a big step up.”

The exploits of Hibs’ title-winning under-18s last season have been well documented but there was no chance of a shot at a league and cup double as they exited the Youth Cup at the semi-final stage, losing 4-2 to a Robbie Ure-inspired Rangers team at HTC.

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Most of the starting team against Molde were part of that game and Laidlaw suggests the collective feeling after the loss spurred them on to victory against the Norwegians.

"It annoyed us, the way we lost, and it had an impact on our performances in the league games afterwards,” he admits.

"But we got it over the line and it got us to this stage, playing at Easter Road in front of three and a half thousand fans who were brilliant.

"It was class, and just makes you want to kick on and get into the first team. It might only have been a few thousands fans but imagine playing in front of 20,000 at a sold-out Easter Road against Hearts in the derby, or against Celtic or Rangers?”

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Pathway to first-team football

Having had a taste of the first team under previous managers, Laidlaw is eager for more and having seen a handful of his team-mates make their senior debuts, he is keen to do the same for his boyhood club.

"I just want to play as many games as possible this season,” he states.

“A lot of us are in our last year and want to stay here, and why wouldn’t you? I was away in Israel with the Scotland 17s, but Murray [Aiken], Jacob [Blaney], Hammy [Robbie Hamilton], and Oscar [MacIntyre] all got on against St Johnstone in the last game.

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"That shows there’s a pathway here and you’ll get a chance in the first team.

“It’s a great place to be, it’s the club I love, and I want to stay here as long as possible. I want to show the manager what I can do and the best way of doing that is by playing as many games as I can.”