Liam Craig has warned Hibs that rampant St Johnstone are intent on maintaining their strong start to the season by winning Saturday’s Premiership showdown with his former club at McDiarmid Park.
The Perth side are in buoyant mood after winning their opening three league matches before giving champions Celtic a fright as they secured a 1-1 draw in Glasgow in their last outing before the international break.
Saints’ impressive start was underlined yesterday by the news that Tommy Wright was named Ladbroke Premiership manager of the month for August and that striker Michael O’Halloran had claimed the player of the month award.
“We’re delighted with the start we’ve made,” said Craig, the Saints midfielder and former Hibs captain. “You obviously want to get as many points as you can early on so to win the first three games and then go and play as well as we did and draw away to Celtic is excellent. We’ve got ten points from the first four games so we’re just looking to build on that.”
St Johnstone’s strong start is all the more notable since it has come on the back of them losing last season’s talisman Danny Swanson to Hibs in the summer. Craig believes the return of O’Halloran on loan from Rangers and the addition of former Sheffield United and Livingston midfielder Stefan Scougall has gone a long way to softening the blow of losing attacking midfielder Swanson, who scored 15 goals for Saints last term.
“Danny was our match-winner last season,” said Craig. “He was excellent in his last 18 months with us. It’s always great to have a guy like him in your team because you know if you give him the ball he can go and effect the game. We knew for a while that we were going to lose Danny but you’ve got to give great credit to the manager for replacing him with Michael and also Stefan Scougall, another player who is really comfortable on the ball and gets us playing.
“You could see right away, when he came on in the first league game at Kilmarnock, what Michael brings to us. Even in the pre-season game against East Fife before that, it gave everyone in the changing room a real lift because the boys all knew from his previous spell what type of player he is and we all enjoy working him. He plays with a real belief here because the manager has trust in him, like he does with all his players. Man-management is one of the gaffer’s main qualities. You look for match-winners in your team, and Mikey’s showed already this season that he’s definitely that.”
Swanson, who will return to the squad on Saturday after missing Hibs; draw at Dundee through illness, is yet to generate any momentum since arriving at Easter Road in the summer. However, Craig has no doubt that his former colleague will soon start replicating his Saints form in a green-and-white jersey.
“Danny will be a big player for Hibs,” he said. “He showed here what a great player he is. I know he’s been hampered by injury and illness at the start of his Hibs career but he’s not just a great player, he’s a great boy in the dressing-room. As the season goes on, he’ll get stronger and stronger. I just hope he doesn’t start this Saturday.”