It may have been a case of necessity caused by Hibs’ extensive injury list and the absence of the Easter Road outfit’s Australian contingent but, claimed Oli Shaw, the past few weeks have given fans a glimpse of the future.
Neil Lennon was forced to look to the club’s academy during that hectic spell of eight games last month, time and again bolstering his matchday squad with youngsters unknown to the vast majority of supporters.
“Josh who?” was the question on the lips of most as Hibs derby-day starting line-up and bench was unveiled, the player in question being 18-year-old Josh Campbell without a minute of first-team experience.
Goalkeeper Kevin Dabrowski, recalled from a loan spell with Civil Service Strollers after Ofir Marciano’s injury left Lennon with only Adam Bogdan, was in the same position, while another of the substitutes in Jamie Gullan could only boast 18 minutes of Premiership action.
Add into the mix that Sean Mackie had only five minutes of top-flight action under his belt a fortnight ago but has now featured against Celtic, Rangers and Hearts and it is clear how heavily Lennon has had to rely on the club’s development squad. He has also heavily utilised Shaw and 19-year-old defender Ryan Porteous, currently sidelined by a knee injury.
However, as Shaw pointed out, Lennon has never shied away from pitching kids in. He said: “The gaffer’s been brilliant since he came in giving youngsters their chance.
“But that’s Hibs, fans want to see young boys coming in and making their mark and as a young player that’s what I want to see, my peers coming into the team and hopefully starting to make a name for themselves.”
Shaw announced his own arrival with a Hampden goal in last season’s Betfred Cup semi-final against Celtic and another in a league match against the champions a couple of weeks later but acknowledges it’s tough to make the breakthrough at a club like Hibs.
He said: “I think the development squad winning the league and cup double last season shows the players we have, that working under Eddie May and Grant Murray has progressed us.
“The next stage is getting into the first team and bedding down that place. Obviously it’s hard work to break into the side but you have to work hard and take that opportunity when you get it.
“Hibs have always produced young players and we are continuing to do so. I could rattle off a fair few that are pushing to get into the first-team squad.”
Ultimately, though, it’s results and performances which will determine who holds onto a jersey and, admitted, Shaw that’s what he is still battling to do, his five goals so far this season matching his tally for last year.
The youngster, who saw his “ghost goal” chopped off at Tynecastle last season, came within a couple of inches of adding to that total against Hearts at the weekend, his long-range shot clipping the top of the cross bar.
Being denied a derby goal once again was “frustrating”, team-mate Steven Whittaker going even closer with a shot which Hearts goalkeeper Colin Doyle touched onto his post before watching the ball spin across the length of his goal-line before going out for a corner, two near misses which left Olly Lee’s first-half strike to wrap up the points for the Jambos.
Shaw said: “Losing 1-0 when we’d had most of the game was so disappointing. We just couldn’t get that goal. Their goalie got a wee touch on Whitty’s shot but nine times out of ten that would then spin into the net.
“I feel that if we’d got a goal at that point we might have gone on the win the game. All the stats, possession, shots on goal, corners, will show that.
“I’d imagine Olly Lee hasn’t hit many shots better in his time. When you are a defender and you’ve got him going away from goal but he turns and puts it into the top corner, there’s not a lot you can do.
“Thereafter Hearts had a couple of half-chances which Adam dealt with but it was frustrating that we didn’t go on and score that goal to get us a foothold in the game.”
With Martin Boyle away at the Asian Cup along with Socceroos team-mates Mark Milligan and Jamie Maclaren, a situation that could persist into February should they, as holders, go all the way in the tournament, Shaw knows that with only him and Florian Kamberi as recognised strikers in the meantime – depending on what Lennon does in this month’s transfer window – he has a chance to stake his claim
He said: “The gaffer has shown faith to play me in the big games, against Celtic, Rangers and Hearts and I am relishing those occasions. I am here to make an impact and hopefully bed down that place.
“I’ve been working in the gym because you need that bit of physicality being a striker in Scotland.”