Hibs' Jamie Gullan speaks on dislodging strike duo and changes he's had to make since Raith return
The 20-year-old enjoyed an impressive first half of the season on loan at Raith Rovers, leading their goal-scoring charts as John McGlynn’s side pushed themselves out in front in the race for the League One title.
Now he’s back at Easter Road, swapping regular first-team action for a seat on the bench as Doidge and McNulty hold down a place in Hibs’ front line.
However, Gullan revealed that hearing the head coach talk highly of him ahead of Saturday’s Premiership clash with Livingston was a huge boost.
“Jamie’s returned not just to make up the numbers,” said Ross in his pre-match press conference. “I see him as a first-team player but he’s probably been a bit unfortunate not to have more game time at the moment, primarily because we are playing and winning.
“But he’s pushing them (Doidge and McNulty) hard, training terrifically well and is in a really good place at the moment. It’s good for me to have two good strikers playing well and with a younger one pushing them.”
And Gullan believes Ross backed up those words, his faith in the youngster reflected in the fact he replaced the vastly more experienced Vykintas Slivka at the weekend with the match against Livingston delicately poised at 1-1.
Pointing out that Fraser Murray, also just 20, had come on for under-par playmaker Scott Allan earlier in the match, he said: “It fills us with confidence knowing we have a gaffer who is going to play young boys.
“Me and Fraser have been taking every opportunity to try to impress him and I think so far we have done that, but we have to continue to do that and if we get the chance to get into the team to try to stay there and step in to first team.
“Coming on at 1-1, you want to make a positive impact. Fraser has come on and done well. I was in and out of the game and not getting a lot of touches, but that will come.
“It’s good he puts us on at important times, not when we are three or four up but when it means something. It’s good learning for us to come on at such times, how to manage it.”
Gullan admitted he’s found it difficult to re-adapt to life at Easter Road following his spell at Stark’s Park, where he believes he thrived not just on the pressure of playing first-team football on a weekly basis but the fact every game was vital for Rovers’ title hopes.
Four goals as Hibs development squad defeated Huddersfield 7-1 last week, however, helped boost his confidence. He said: “At Raith I’d been playing on a Saturday and the reserves here on a Tuesday, playing two games a week.
“Then to come back and not know if you are going to be on the bench or come on, it does take a while to know what you have to do to keep yourself in good condition, but I have that now so that when chance comes I’ll be ready.
“It could have been five (against Huddersfield) but one of them was given it to Yrick (Gallantes). But four was good and it was good to get 90 minutes under my belt because I hadn’t played a full game for five or six weeks.
“I got some fitness as well as the goals, which was very good. That’s what I want, I just want to get on that pitch as much as I can and show what I can do.”
He may be knocking on the first-team door, but nevertheless, Gullan admitted he was delighted to hear Ross praise him so publicly.
“It was pleasing to hear that from the gaffer,” he said. “Christian and Sparky are scoring the goals which is good to see, two guys banging them in. I have to bide my time and if I get on the pitch just to whatever I can to impress him and in training just keep doing what I am doing and if the chance comes to take it.
“I want to play first-team football for Hibs, I’ve been trying to get into the team for a long time so now I am so close I’m in a good place and hopefully I’ll keep kicking on and improving.
“Christian and Marc have been really good to me. I can learn a lot from them and it’s good watching and learning if they see me do something they might do differently they tell me.
“They work well together. Sparky can link the play but he likes to run in behind Doidgey comes short, they bounce off each other and have a good partnership going.”
And, as in Kirkcaldy, Gullan believes he’ll thrive on the pressure the final few weeks of the season are going to bring at Easter Road, Friday’s Scottish Cup quarter-final against Inverness Caley followed by the Edinburgh derby a few days later.
He said: “At Raith no matter what, we needed three points from every match to try to win the title. Here it’s the same - we are going for Europe every game is massive so there’s an added pressure in front of a lot more fans, but you block that out and it doesn’t really bother me.”
The weekend draw with Livingston also robbed Hibs of the chance to turn up the heat on Motherwell and Aberdeen, the teams currently occupying third and fourth places in the table, but while the capital club may be on the fringes of that particular race, Gullan insists the Easter Road fans are in for an exciting finale to the season.
He said: “It was a big game and would have liked the three points, that was the target. There was a bit of disappointment that we didn’t get all three, but one is better than none so we keep going and look forward to a massive cup tie and then the derby and a huge few games to follow so we get this out of our mind and move forward.
“It’s going to be an exciting end to the season. There’s the cup, while third place is achievable. We go up to Aberdeen in a couple of weeks time and if we make top six we’ll have them and Motherwell again after the break
“So there are lots of big games coming up for us and everyone is going to be needed. It is a good place to be in, loads of competition for places, everyone hungry, fighting for the same thing.”