Makeshift Hibs side impresses ahead of cup final - but will Jack Ross alter plans?

On most occasions, Hibs recording a goalless draw against Celtic would be an impressive result, never mind achieving it with as many as eight first-choice players on the bench.

Monday, 17th May 2021, 4:55 am
Darren McGregor keeps a close eye on Celtic forward Odsonne Edouard

Saturday's match was a million miles away from the frenetic 5-5 encounter with Rangers on the final day of the 2017/18 season but there was still cause to celebrate.

A third clean sheet inside a week, another unbeaten game against the Hoops who haven’t won on league duty at Easter Road since January 2014, and plenty of food for thought ahead of the Scottish Cup final.

Darren McGregor and David Gray – with a combined age of 68 – rolled back the years in defence. Gray, making his first league start of the season, regularly got the better of Mohamed Elyounoussi and while he is unlikely to start against St Johnstone, the club captain knows he has an important role to play this week.

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"It was great that the manager was able to rotate the squad a little bit and make sure boys that needed minutes got them so if they are going to be needed at Hampden, they're ready, but also the ones that have done fantastically well all season got an opportunity to have a little bit of a rest and get ready for what is the biggest game of the season,” Gray said after the match.

“If I'm not playing on the pitch, I've definitely still got a role to play, whether it be keeping everybody on their toes and working as hard as we can. And Darren McGregor's very similar to that as well.”

Could McGregor have played his way into the starting line-up for this weekend’s encounter? The veteran defender has kept clean sheets in his last three games and produced two fine performances against Aberdeen last week and again against Celtic, but said himself that he wants Ryan Porteous to line out for the final.

Even if Jack Ross does opt to pair Porteous with another 2016 veteran in Paul Hanlon at the weekend, having the evergreen McGregor in reserve isn’t the worst back-up plan to have.

It is highly unlikely that the performance against Celtic will send Ross back to the tactics board for a pre-Hampden rethink. That’s not to take anything away from the players who featured – Melker Hallberg worked hard as an auxiliary centre-forward, Kyle Magennis had plenty of dig on the right of midfield, and Lewis Stevenson put in the sort of dependable 90 minutes that has seen him continually picked by several Easter Road managers – but it will have reassured the coaching staff that whoever misses out on a starting berth in the cup final is more than capable of coming on and making a difference.

The only downside to Saturday’s game was Ofir Marciano being robbed of the standing ovation his performances over the last five seasons deserve.

It was typical that in what is likely to be his final appearance in a Hibs shirt he kept a clean sheet and pulled off a couple of top-drawer saves.

Matt Macey looks likely to start at Hampden but it will be a fitting reward for Marciano if he can sign off in style by being part of a Hibs squad to lift the cup.

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