AT LAST, finally, Hibs can let their football do the talking rather than have the entire debate focused on just one player.
The Scott Allan saga is over, the midfielder formerly of Easter Road now a resident of Glasgow – but at Celtic Park and not as everyone imagined what appeared to be his desired destination, Ibrox.
There’s little doubt Rangers pursuit of the 23-year-old, a boyhood idol of the Govan outfit, provided an unwelcome distraction for Hibs head coach Alan Stubbs and the other members of his squad, Allan’s future the only topic of conversation no matter how the Capital club strived to keep attention centred on matches rather than dispatches.
Has it had an undue influence on Hibs somewhat stuttering start to the season? The answer has to be an emphatic “Yes,” Allan part of Stubbs’ thoughts for this match against Championship new boys Morton little more than 24 hours before Ronny Deila’s dramatic intervention to gazump his club’s Old Firm rivals.
Now, though, full concentration can be paid to that target of taking the title and with it the only automatic promotion spot although, it could be argued, that in unsettling Allan and disrupting life at East Mains, Rangers have, at least, come up some reward for their efforts.
That Allan, who had seen his faltering career revived during a season at Easter Road after Rangers had turned their back on him having had the chance to sign him as a free agent, will be missed is not in dispute, least of all by Stubbs himself.
But the uncertainty is over, a line can be drawn under the entire episode, and leave Stubbs free to fashion a new-look midfield with the summer arrivals of Dan Carmichael, Marvin Bartley, John McGinn and, in partial and temporary recompense for Allan’s switch to Celtic, Hoops youngster Liam Henderson.
“I’m sorry to see him go,” admitted Stubbs of Allan’s exit, “I’m certainly going to miss him. I always miss quality players.”
That said, though, Stubbs also applied a similarly glowing reference to 19-year-old Henderson, a player he had hoped to bring in on loan in January but content now to have him for the remainder of this season. Quality was again the words used by the former Celtic and Everton defender when asked what Henderson will bring to his squad, adding: “I tried to get him last year. We were close but he broke into the team and that made it difficult.
“But he is a very, very talented footballer and one who has the potential to go on to the very top. I think it speaks volumes of what Celtic think of us as a football club and the way we play that they have allowed him to come to us.
“It will be a privilege to work with him and I know I will make him a better player. I hope he has a fantastic season here, goes back to Celtic and kicks on.”
Stubbs, though, was coy on whether Henderson may be joined at Easter Road by Dylan McGeouch who spent a successful season on loan with Hibs before returning to Celtic after they triggered a year’s option on his contract.
McGeouch had been heralded as being a third dimension to the Allan deal, but it failed to materialise. Whether it may be revived between now and the end of the transfer window remains to be seen, Stubbs only prepared to say: “He is not our player and I don’t talk about players at other clubs.”
And so life began without Allan, all attention on how Hibs would cope without their prized asset, their playmaker and last season’s Championship player of the year and to that end Stubbs will obviously have to reshape his midfield as a consequence, while it’s obvious it will take a little time for things to settle down and players to gel as they get to know each other’s game.
The more immediate aim, though, was simply a win, to get those first three points on the table after the disappointment of losing the opening fixture of the season at Dumbarton, a match which Hibs dominated, enjoying 60 per cent of possession and managing 13 shots to the home side’s five.
The statistics were again similar, Stubbs’ players having 60 per cent of the ball, upping their attempts at goal to 20, 11 of which were on target and while he’ll be reasonably happy at such dominance, he’ll undoubtedly be slightly disappointed that his side aren’t pressing home such an advantage.
Of course, the opposition have a say in matters, Mark Brown pulling off a string of decent saves the previous week and on this occasion Liam Fontaine hitting the bar, David Gray seeing a header cleared off the line and referee Craig Charleston waving away what looked like a totally legitimate penalty claim when Martin Boyle was bundled to the turf.
But Hibs simply need to be more clinical in front of goal, substitute Jason Cummings thankfully so from their point of view, scoring with his first touch as he turned home Gray’s low cross barely 20 seconds after taking to the field.
In the end it proved enough although, as Morton boss Jim Duffy pointed out, his side had the first half’s two best chances, Peter MacDonald firing a shot straight at Mark Oxley when he should have scored and then Stefan McCluskey unable to beat the goalkeeper in a one-on-one situation.
Duffy said: “Had we taken one of those opportunities, Hibs might have got a bit on edge but a lapse of concentration when Cummings came on did us.
“It took us a few minutes to adjust, but by then he’d scored. At this level against a team of Hibs calibre if you switch off for one moment you can get punished and that’s exactly what happened.”
For his part Stubbs, insisted, Cummings deserved all the credit rather than him for having pulled off a “masterstroke” in hauling last season’s top scorer off the bench. He said: “Today it worked, another day it might not.
“But Jason deserves to take the credit, not me. He is the one that’s come on and been in the right place at the right time. It should always be the players before me who get applauded and Jason deserves it because his attitude when he came on was good.
“Sometimes when you have been left out you can feel a bit sorry for yourself but his response was exactly what I wanted to see.”
Stubbs admitted his side had been forced to work hard for their narrow win, saying: “Morton were very dogged. As a team they worked really hard but as we said to the players no-one has a divine right to win any game. You have to earn it and I thought we did.”