Oli Shaw won’t be short of belief if called upon by Neil Lennon to play any part for Hibs in Sunday’s Easter Road showdown with Celtic.
A naturally sure-footed character anyway, the free-scoring 19-year-old’s confidence levels soared further when he marked his fourth substitute outing for the first team by netting his first goal in the 4-2 Betfred Cup semi-final defeat by Brendan Rodgers’ all-conquering side at Hampden in October.
While the teenager insists he hasn’t been replaying that goal in his mind constantly over the past seven weeks, it certainly hasn’t done any harm to his morale. “The semi-final against Celtic has given me a lot of confidence,” Shaw told the Evening News. “They’ve proven that they’re the best team in Scotland so to go on and score against centre-backs of that quality gives you a belief that you can compete against anyone. It’s certainly given me a lot of confidence. It was quite surreal to get my first goal for Hibs at Hampden in a semi-final against Celtic. It was a good feeling. We had big games after that so I had to knuckle down in training and stay focused on those but lots of people kept reminding me about my goal against Celtic. I’ve not really thought about it too much, to be honest. I was scoring loads for the 20s and feeling confident anyway but it’s always nice to get your first goal for the club. Hopefully there’s a few more to come.”
Shaw has made another three substitute appearances since that Hampden goal, with the most recent of those coming when he impressed in the closing stages of last weekend’s 1-0 win away to Partick Thistle. Lennon said this week that the young striker, who has scored prolifically in the development league over the past couple of seasons, is pushing for his maiden first-team start. “It was good to get 25 minutes or so against Partick, I was happy with that,” said Shaw. “I thought I did well so hopefully it will help me get a bit more game time. It’s nice to hear that the gaffer feels I’m knocking on the door for a start. It’s up to him to pick the best team for each game and if he feels I’m the right man to start a game, I’ll take it in my stride.”
Shaw is pleased with the way he is progressing. As well as filling his boots in the development league, he has also benefited from a spell on loan with Stenhousemuir last season and training full-time with the first team this term. He sees a pathway into the Hibs attack and is now at a level where he feels “ready to take on anybody”.
“I feel like I’m developing well,” he said. “I think being out on loan last year helped me a lot. The standard of football in the Premiership is obviously much higher than it is in League One, but in terms of playing for Stenhousemuir and Hibs, I don’t feel a massive difference. I was playing against a lot of physical players at Stenhousemuir and I feel like that’s helping me hold my own against my opponents.
“This season the gaffer has shown he’s not scared to throw me in and that gives you a lot of confidence. I’m enjoying training with the first team and then getting on the bench and getting minutes on the pitch. I’m just concentrating on working my way in, hopefully getting a few goals here and there, and ultimately starting games. I feel strong and I feel good. I feel like I’m ready to take on anybody.”
Shaw has a recent predecessor for inspiration as he bids to make the grade at Hibs and enjoy a fruitful career in the game. Jason Cummings made the jump from the development team to the first team as an 18-year-old four years ago and, after scoring 71 goals for the Easter Road side, the striker is now in the English Championship with Nottingham Forest and last month enjoyed his first involvement with the full Scotland squad. “It gives you inspiration when you see a guy like Jason coming through at the club, getting his chance and then doing well,” said Shaw. “He’s only young but he was banging in the goals for Hibs and now he’s got his big move to Nottingham Forest. Seeing players come through at Hibs and going on to have good careers gives you a lot of hope.”
Shaw will be hoping to catch the eye once more by playing a part against Celtic on Sunday. The champions visit Easter Road for the first time in almost four years as they look to extend a remarkable 67-game unbeaten run against domestic opposition which stretches back to the week before Hibs defeated Rangers in the Scottish Cup final. Lennon’s side have caused the league leaders more trouble than most this season after going close to victory at Parkhead in September before settling for a 2-2 draw. They also gave Celtic a run for their money in the aforementioned Betfred Cup semi-final when Shaw’s strike got them back to 3-2 with 20 minutes left after they had been 2-0 behind at the break. Moussa Dembele’s goal with two minutes remaining eventually killed off a spirited Hibs challenge. “The last two games against Celtic will give us a lot of confidence going into Sunday’s game,” said Shaw. “We got a good point at Celtic Park and then in the semi-final we lost a few sloppy goals. We’ll look at what we did well and what we did badly in those games and hopefully implement everything that’s needed to get a result against Celtic. The fact this game is at Easter Road should help us as well. The fans have been great all season, so I’m sure they’ll come out in their numbers and help keep us going.”