Liam Craig believes Hibs will benefit from Scott Allan’s determination to follow midfield colleagues Dylan McGeouch and John McGinn into the Scotland squad.
Craig will encounter the much-vaunted Easter Road trio when St Johnstone welcome his old team to Perth on Friday evening. However, the 31-year-old already knows all about Allan and McGeouch in particular after playing alongside them during Hibs’ first season in the Championship under Alan Stubbs three years ago. While he is thrilled for McGeouch, whom he feels fully warranted being given his first Scotland call-up for the upcoming friendlies against Costa Rica and Hungary, Craig believes Allan, whom he described as one the best players he has played with, is also destined for international involvement if he can maintain the level of form he has shown since returning to Easter Road on loan from Celtic in January. After a couple of high-quality performances against Rangers and Aberdeen, the 26-year-old further endeared himself to the Hibs fans with a brilliantly-executed opening goal in last Friday’s 2-0 victory over Hearts.
“Scotty is one of the most talented players I’ve ever worked with,” Craig said, with a nod to the 2014/15 campaign when Allan was the standout player in a Championship which also included Hearts and Rangers. “The Hibs fans were disappointed to lose him (to Celtic in 2015) but he’s come back in and shown what a good footballer he is. If you score a goal like the one he got in the derby and produce performances like he has, you’re going to win the fans back.
“Scotty will see John and Dylan in the Scotland set-up and he’ll want to be part of that – I’m sure that’s what he’ll be striving for. For Scotty, it’s just about getting regular game time at a good club. He had been down south and it didn’t really work out for him but he came up to Hibs and Alan Stubbs was really good at making players feel good and getting the best out of them by letting them play with freedom, and he certainly did that with Scotty. The amount of assists Scotty had that season was incredible. I loved playing with him. There’s nothing better than having players in your team who you can give the ball and know they can go and make something happen, and Scotty is definitely one of those players.”
Ironically, McGeouch, who was given his first call-up by new Scotland manager Alex McLeish on Monday, was overshadowed by Allan in the aforementioned 2014/15 campaign, although this was largely down to the fact injuries prevented him gaining any momentum. Fitness remained an issue for McGeouch in subsequent campaigns, but this term he has generally managed to steer clear of niggles and is now operating at a level whereby he is widely deemed Hibs’ main man. Craig isn’t surprised to see the former Celtic youngster cast as one of the top players in the country now that his body is allowing him to play at full pelt.
“Going back to when he first joined Hibs (on loan from Celtic in 2014), probably the only thing holding him back was the niggling injuries he was getting,” said the Saints midfielder and former Hibs captain. “From working with him on a day-to-day basis, you could see he was a top, top player. He was a great team-mate and a great person to have in the dressing-room. Now that he seems to have got all the injuries behind him, everybody’s seeing now what a top player he is and why he broke through at Celtic and got opportunities in the first team. You don’t play in Celtic’s first team at 18 if you’re not a good footballer.
“He would probably say himself that it’s just the injuries that have held him back. He’s always had the ability and the potential – it was just a case of him getting a run of games. Any player who worked under Alan Stubbs will tell you how much they enjoyed it and how much he improved their game just because of the freedom he gave us. Since then, getting regular game time under Neil Lennon and playing alongside good players like John and Scotty will also have helped him kick on.
“You could see on Friday and also in so many other games how good he is. He controls the game from the middle of the park. To a lot of people it possibly goes unnoticed because he doesn’t score a lot of goals, but he plays the game at his own pace. He’s very comfortable on the ball and very rarely gives it away. People might think that’s easy, but, trust me, it’s not. Dylan is a massive part of what Hibs have done this season. The likes of Scott, John and Martin Boyle get a lot of credit for assists and goals but Dylan is often the one that gets them on the ball with his work behind them.”
Craig believes McGeouch, a Scottish Cup winner with Hibs, has the credentials to ensure this week’s Scotland call is the first of many for him. “Dylan’s deserved all the success he’s had at Hibs, and he deserves his call-up as well,” he said. “I can see him becoming an asset to Scotland - I hope he goes in there and does really well. It’s up to Dylan whether he establishes himself in the squad, but he’s certainly capable of it. He’s got himself in the squad and given himself an opportunity, so why not? He’ll be looking at John McGinn, who’s been in the squad for a while and played a few games, and he’ll be wanting to do the same and go and prove he can play at that level.”