‘I will do everything I can ...’ Hibs boss harbours Hampden hopes
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Being part of an “electric” Hampden Roar for a clash with the Auld Enemy left Nick Montgomery tingling with excitement.
The prospect of leading Hibs out at the national stadium? Now there’s a thought laden with enough wattage to make his hair stand on end.
The fact that he’ll be joined in his quest by someone like David Gray, a man who will forever be synonymous with one glorious May afternoon in Mount Florida, will help the new gaffer stay grounded.
And Montgomery knows how difficult it will be for his team to claim a place in the last four of the Viaplay Cup, with St Mirren deservedly heading to Easter Road as the slightest of favourites with the bookies.
But, at heart, the former Under-21 cap can’t deny that a trip to the home of Scottish football sets his pulse racing.
“I’ve been to Hampden a couple of times, although I haven’t played there and haven’t managed there,” said the former Sheffield United midfielder, who made it as far as a Scotland Futures squad in his playing days.
“I watched the Scotland v England game there a couple of weeks ago and I thought the atmosphere was electric. A lot of booing!
“To see that stadium packed, the history the place has got, I will obviously do everything I can to experience that.
“I never trained there, never played there, unfortunately. But it’s great that I have the opportunity to go there as a manager.
“But obviously quite a few boys have played there, they’ve had success there.
“There are boys in the squad who were successful at Hampden in 2016, so they know what it’s about.
“We’re professional enough to know that there’s no point in thinking about that until we can get a result tomorrow night.
“I don’t need to really dangle a carrot. Every player will be in this job to be successful and win things.
“Some players never do. They wait their whole career and never win a medal.
“We can use the experience of the boys who have won there. And, for the boys who haven’t done that yet, never played a big game there, it’s definitely an incentive – the chance to go and play at Hampden in a semi-final.”
The presence of people who have been part of highlights in Hibs history shouldn’t be under-valued. Least of all when it comes to the contribution of someone like Gray.
The undoubted hero of that Scottish Cup triumph in 2016, the former captain’s retention as part of the coaching staff is clearly more than just a sop to supporters or a short-term appointment based on the need for continuity.
Montgomery insists he’s been invaluable to his efforts over the first fortnight of his time as gaffer – and has already proven himself vital to the incoming coaching staff.
"He’s the DNA of the club, he’s got so much history here and everyone has so much respect for him,” said Montgomery.
"For me to have a coach like him joining myself and Sergio (Raimundo, assistant head coach) made the transition a lot easier. He’s got a lot of knowledge of the players and the club.
“But I think within two weeks we’ve become really close and formed a close bond.
"It’s about trust, and I trust him 100 per cent, he trusts me, and that’s really important for any coaching staff. I’m really happy with the staff here who I’ve inherited.
"To see the effort they put in on a daily basis and to have everyone buying in has been really nice. But David is such a humble, genuine guy.
"I count him as a good friend, and I’ve only known him two weeks, so I think that’s the measure of the guy."
St Mirren represent the toughest challenge of Montgomery’s time at the helm, in several different respects.
Flying high in the Premiership and with only one defeat on their dance card, way back in their opening League Cup group game, ironically enough, Stephen Robinson’s men tend to line up in a solid 3-4-3 that becomes a 5-4-1 without the ball.
They don’t lose many 50-50s, either in the air or on the ground, and scored pretty freely on their last visit to Easter Road, winning 3-2 in the opening round of league fixtures back in August.
Hibs will obviously need to continue in their current attacking vein if they’re to get the goals needed to win, then. Which is where Martin Boyle, who looks like a player rejuvenated by the change of management, comes in.
“Martin Boyle is one of the best players in the competition, I don’t think anyone can doubt that,” said Montgmery.
“I saw him playing for the Australian national team and know of him really well. He’s been a breath of fresh air.
“He can play anywhere across that front four. I’ve given him a bit of licence now to sometimes start on the left or on the right - or up front.
“He’s really hard to play against because of his speed. He’s come off a really long injury, so it takes time, but if you look at him in the last two games, he’s getting back to what he expects from himself.
“There’s more to come from him. He’s unfortunate he’s not had a couple of goals and a couple of assists in the last two games.
“But if he keeps playing like he is, if I was a defender, I would not want to play against Martin Boyle.”