Stevie Mallan admits he’ll be caught between a rock and a hard place if he were to score against his old club St Mirren today.
He knows the travelling Hibs fans would expect him to celebrate just as he has his previous seven goals for the Easter Road club, but he insisted he has too much respect for the Paisley outfit even if some of his Buddie-supporting mates have dared him to enjoy the moment – one even offering him a tenner to do so.
Barely a year has passed since the Scotland Under-21 midfielder quit St Mirren for Barnsley, a move which turned sour and resulted in him returning north of the Border but to the other side of the country as Neil Lennon, faced with the loss of both John McGinn and Dylan McGeouch, made him a priority signing.
But in that time Saints have gone through something of an upheaval, Jack Ross, who had guided them back into the Premiership, quitting to take over at Sunderland while his successor, former Hibs head coach Alan Stubbs, lasted only weeks in the job before being sacked and replaced with Coleraine’s Oran Kearney.
And only a handful of the players he once called team-mates remain, making them, as both Mallan and Lennon claimed, something of an unknown quantity.
Mallan said: “I’m looking forward to going back, St Mirren are a team close to my heart after everything I did there. It will be weird playing against them but I can’t wait because it’s a great place to play football.
“I hope I get a nice reception because I gave them a lot of my life and I felt I left on a good note. The last season I was there we stayed up and I left them in a good position.
“If I did manage to score I don’t think I’d be one of those guys who celebrated, I respect the club too much. I know boys who don’t celebrate get a lot of criticism and a few of my St Mirren supporting mates have been saying ‘I dare you to run over and celebrate, I’ll give you a tenner’.
“But I was there too long, I owe them too much.”
While there will be a few familiar faces, the likes of Stephen McGinn, Jack Baird and Cammy Smith, Mallan admitted Saints are now a very different team to the one he left behind, saying: “No-one knows what is going to happen because there have been so many changes since the start of the season.
“All we can do is go off the performances we have had recently and try to do the same again.”
As this is the first time he’ll have faced a former club, Mallan revealed he was uncertain as to whether the experience will be that little bit easier given the number of players who have left the Buddies. He said: “The boys who were there before were very good players and I enjoyed playing with them. They’ve brought in a lot of good players as well and they’re coming in on the back of a good performance against Celtic.
“There’s no doubt this will be a tough match. They’ll be disappointed they lost to Hamilton and I’m pretty sure their manager will be looking for a reaction – and the best place to do that is at home.”
Hibs themselves are coming off the disappointment of going out of the Betfred Cup on penalties to Aberdeen. It was Mallan’s penalty, Hibs’ first, which was saved by Dons keeper Joe Lewis before team-mate Thomas Agyepong hit the bar to see the Pittodrie side squeeze through 6-5 in sudden death.
But Mallan is in no doubt they’ll bounce back to make it three league wins on the spin. He said: “The performance itself was very good, and the manager said that. It was just one of those games where we couldn’t get the ball in the net.
“It was a bit of a heartbreak but we want to bounce back as early as possible.”