Highly-rated Hibs kid Oli Shaw believes European football can be the making of him as a top-class striker, revealing he is relishing the challenge of helping spearhead the Easter Road club’s bid to make the group stages of the Europa League.
The surprise departure of Simon Murray for South Africa side Bidvest Wits has left Hibs boss Neil Lennon with only 20-year-old Shaw and Swiss hitman Florian Kamberi going into tonight’s second-leg clash with NSI Runavik in the Faroe Islands. And it’s an opportunity that Shaw, who scored his first goal in Europe as Kamberi claimed a hat-trick in the 6-1 rout of the part-time minnows a week ago to effectively secure a second qualifying round tie against Asteras Tripolis from Greece, is determined to take.
Lennon is content to go into tonight’s match with the pairing of Shaw and Kamberi but conceded he is light in numbers up front, a situation he will be addressing in the days to come although he refused to discuss the possibility of Australian forward Jamie Maclaren, who forged a prolific partnership with Kamberi in the second half of last season, returning.
In the meantime, Shaw, who notched five goals last season including a Betfred Cup semi-final strike against Celtic, will be doing his utmost to ensure that whoever the new arrival(s) might be, they’ll have to fight him for that place in the starting line-up.
He said: “The gaffer’s given me a chance in the last few games and I want to repay that by scoring goals. He wants me to work on other aspects of my game like hold-up play. I want to keep pushing myself and hopefully I can keep my place.
“Me and Flo have been working hard together, the gaffer and Parks [Lennon’s assistant Garry Parker] have been working with us trying to implement things. We’re working as a pair and hopefully as the season progresses we can continue to build on that.
“It was good to get off the mark last week. It was my first European goal, all my family were there as well, and it was good to score. I’ve scored in a few of the bigger games; people say that’s where you make your mark when people are watching them. If you play well in those, it’s important for me and the team.
“I’ve done a bit of work in the summer and I’ve a programme from the sports scientists. I like to use my pace as well, but particularly in Europe there’s going to be a physical aspect, different cultures and different ways of playing.
“It’s big for game development to experience playing against different types of players. Teams go on pre-season tours and play different styles. You see Rangers Under-20s last season didn’t play in the league, they played foreign teams to get that kind of experience. It’s just about balancing the two.”
Shaw already has plenty of international experience having played for Scotland at both Under-17 and Under-19 levels but in the Toftir Stadium he will sample a European away match with Hibs for the first time, yet another opportunity as he sees it to broaden his horizons just that little bit further.
He said: “This is my first time away on a European trip with the team, it’s been good and we’ll work on a few things.
“I’ve been to Greece, Czech Republic with the Scottish youth levels, before the qualifying rounds for the Euros. It’s brought my game on, it’s different and you learn from it, because it can be a test.
“It’s always good experience to play against different styles of opponents and it’ll be good to experience it with Hibs.
“It’s obviously quite different here in terms of the facilities, and the weather’s a bit bleak, but it’s a good experience for the boys. It’s important that we develop that. We’re a close-knit group and coming on trips away can only help that. It helps the bonding side, especially if we’re getting results.”
Although tonight’s match is, in effect, a “dead rubber”, Shaw insisted he and his team-mates owe a performance to the 200 or so Hibs fans who have travelled to the Faroes.
He said: “You want to show NSI the respect they deserve but we have a few fans who’ve made the trip over and we want to go out and put on a show for them. It maybe takes the pressure off to be so far ahead after last week but we still want to come back with a result.”
However, like Lennon and his team-mates, Shaw harbours dreams of helping Hibs become the first Scottish side outwith the Old Firm to make the Europa League group stages since Aberdeen a decade ago.
“We set targets and we want to get to the group stages,” he said. “Getting through these first two rounds would be a massive boost for our confidence, even going into the league. It would be great to progress.
“Hibs are a big club and we’re going in the right direction and hopefully that’s what will happen. The gaffer has brought in a mindset for us to win and hopefully we’ll kick on from there.”