Watching Hibs and Dundee United stage a thrilling League Cup clash helped convince Keith Watson to switch from Tannadice to Easter Road.
The 25-year-old didn’t make Jackie McNamara’s squad that night back in October, but was captivated as the sides battled out a 3-3 draw, United finally clinching the tie in a dramatic penalty shoot-out.
So when he was told his time on Tayside was coming to an end, the Livingston-born defender had no hesitation in agreeing a loan deal with the Capital club until the end of the season, viewing it not only as a chance to impress Hibs head coach Alan Stubbs, but to put himself in the shop window should there be any other interested parties.
Now, having seen his new team-mates at their free-flowing best, Watson has glimpsed another side to them as they dug in to notch up yet another victory over Rangers. Winning ugly it might have been, but as far as Watson was concerned, it still looked pretty good as Hibs snatched all three points with goals from Scott Robertson and Lewis Stevenson.
Having made his debut at right back in the disappointing 1-1 draw against Raith Rovers two weeks ago, Watson might have wondered if he’d even make Stubbs starting X1 for Ibrox, with vice-captain David Gray returning from a groin operation for the Scottish Cup win over Arbroath as he was forced to sit idle, ineligible to play having featured for United earlier in the competition.
But a change in formation, Stubbs reverting to the 3-5-2 which had been in place when Hibs won 3-1 on their previous visit to Govan, threw Watson his chance as he lined up alongside Paul Hanlon and Liam Fontaine as part of a back-three.
And although Hibs found themselves under intense pressure at times and enjoyed some luck, most notably the ball striking Robertson’s hand inside his own penalty area as they held onto the slender lead his first half goal had given them, it was an approach which again came up trumps.
Watson said: “I wasn’t sure how the gaffer was going to go. David had come back into things against Arbroath having been brilliant all season, but as we started to shape the team you could see the change in formation and that it was between me and Fozzy [Jordon Forster] to see who was in and I got the shout.”
Having earned many plaudits for their recent performances, Stubbs and his players readily conceded they weren’t at their best against a Rangers side which showed more vibrancy than in previous weeks – but with a display which became backs-to-the-wall at times they showed a real sense of grit and determination to grind out the win.
Watson admitted: “We had to dig deep and work really hard, so to come away with a 2-0 victory was absolutely brilliant.
“You can’t play great football all the time. Ibrox is a hard place to go, but while they had chances I thought we defended well and showed we’ve got another side to our game. We knocked it about in the first half but in the second I don’t think we strung ten passes together. It was hard to get our midfield into the game, we were holding on at times and rode our luck on occasion but I thought our defending was excellent.
“Thye’d put big Jon Daly on and we knew they’d be launching the ball into our box looking for him. We thought it was going to be a difficult last en minutes, but then Fraser Fyvie plays in a great ball and Lewis’ finish was superb. It took the pressure right off, but we knew we had to keep going, to keep defending well and managed to come away with a clean sheet.”
The win saw Hibs leapfrog Rangers into second place in the Championship table, two points ahead of them, although Kenny McDowall’s side do enjoy three games in hand, albeit one of them is against runaway leaders Hearts, a situation which prompted Stubbs to claim he’d rather be in the Glasgow club’s position at this particular moment in time.
Watson, however, insisted he and his team-mates are determined to defy the odds and hold what they’ve got, saying: “We could have gone into second place when we played Raith, so to lose that equaliser in added-on time was bitterly disappointing, knowing our next league game was going to be at Ibrox.
“That made Friday night a massive game for us. It was great to win it and while they have games in hand, we have points on the board. The way we are going there’s no reason to think we are not going to keep winning. We’ll be taking it one game at a time, with all our focus now concentrated on Dumbarton this weekend.”
Although Hearts look to have secured the title, currently 20 points ahead of Hibs, Watson insisted: “We’re not going to rule anything out. As I’ve said, we’ll take it game by game, hope to keep winning and we’ll see where it takes us.”
Watson did admit, though, the one things Stubbs players won’t be short on is confidence. He said: “The boys were buzzing – hearing it was the first time Hibs had beaten Rangers in three successive games for ten years was a fantastic stat. We were absolutely delighted. We were able to enjoy our weekend off and then come back in and start working towards this weekend.”