Darren McGregor admits he was among those who raised an eyebrow when Rangers striker Alfredo Morelos was being talked of as a £10 million player.
But today the Hibs defender believes Morelos would be worth every penny of such a fee – and more.
Morelos drew a blank at Easter Road seven days ago as Neil Lennon’s side held Rangers to a scoreless draw but claimed two goals as the Ibrox outfit came from behind to beat St Johnstone on Sunday to take his tally for the season to an astonishing 19.
McGregor watched from the bench as his team-mates, as boss Neil Lennon admitted, rode their luck at times last week and he agreed with his head coach’s assertion that Rangers are a different animal with Steven Gerrard in charge.
The defender, who spent a season in a light-blue shirt before fulfilling his boyhood dream of playing for Hibs, said: “I thought we gave a good account of ourselves but they looked really sharp with a lot of good players.
“I’d agree with what the gaffer said about them. No disrespect to seasons gone by, but they have better players, guys like Scott Arfield in the middle of the park and Allan McGregor in goal have been phenomenal every time I have watched them. They have a really good spine to the team.
“Gerrard has brought in good quality players, they play with an intensity, they’ve dipped their toe into Europe and acquitted themselves well and that’s given them confidence.”
But, revealed McGregor, it’s Morelos who has really caught his eye. He said: “I think he has come into this own in the last year and a half. I remember him being talked of as a £10m player and I was thinking ‘is he really?’. Now justifiably and potentially more.
“His work ethic and his goal scoring record speaks for itself.”
Hibs went to Ibrox and won twice last season, a record which 33-year-old McGregor insisted will give him and his team-mates confidence when they return today while conceding it will be all the tougher this time round.
He said: “It’s a completely different team. I was scanning the stats from the other night and they had the bulk of shots and shots on target, corners and the like. We were put under the cosh, but the history books say we came away with a clean sheet. We know it’s a tough ask going to Ibrox against a team of Rangers’ calibre, but we’ve put a few results together ourselves.”
Lennon’s frustration at the poor work ethic he believes is being shown by his strikers at present boiled over following the weekend draw with Livingston and, conceded McGregor, putting the ball into the back of the Rangers net “would be helpful”, serving a double purpose in that it would also ease the pressure on the back-line where one simple mistake – as happened to allow Livi’s Ryan Hardie to score – can prove costly.
McGregor’s fellow defender Ryan Porteous salvaged a point for Hibs, the 19-year-old heading home his third goal of the season.
McGregor said: “The gaffer touched on it after the game. Ryan has pulled us out of the muck on a couple of occasions. I think he’s scored more goals this season than I have in the past five years. He’s an attacking threat with his heading ability.
“At home, we should be scoring more goals. You always run that risk as a football team that when you do concede, if you are not scoring at the other end, it can become a bit hairy.
“As a team, we need to contribute a bit more, from midfield, not just the strikers. It’s a point the gaffer has mentioned and I’m sure everyone is taking it on board. We need to improve on it.
“There’s peaks and troughs in football. At the moment, we are going through a wee barren spell where we are not scoring as many as we would like.
“But games change on the flick of a switch. We are confident with the guys we have, that we have goals in the team, that it’s just a wee drought at the moment.”
However, McGregor believes the initial goal for Lennon’s players should be a clean sheet. He said: “I think Rangers’ strength in depth showed last week.
“They have guys who move the ball well, they are very energetic and have a good manager. For us, a clean sheet would be paramount because Ibrox is an intimidating place.”
McGregor missed Hibs’ second trip to Govan last season through injury but he vividly recalls the previous visit, the first clash between the sides since the Easter Road outfit had beaten Rangers to lift the Scottish Cup for the first time in 114 years. He said: “It was the loudest I had ever heard it. In the first five minutes when Morelos scored, it was the loudest noise I’d heard in my life. The atmosphere is great and it’s one you thrive on and I am sure we will do that.”