Hibs Under-18s face biggest game of the season as they battle Rangers for Youth Cup final berth
Gareth Evans’ side has been in fine form this season and is yet to lose a game in either the CAS Elite Under-18 League or the cup competition.
Indeed, they are yet to concede a goal in cup matches having put seven past Montrose without reply, beaten Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale 5-0, and edged out Celtic by a goal to nil in the quarter-finals.
It is perhaps all the more impressive when one considers that the team was without centre-back Jacob Blaney and versatile defender / midfielder Josh McCulloch for many of their matches. In one game Hibs were forced to field a 15-year-old midfielder at right-back and a central midfielder at centre-back with three defenders sidelined, although their numbers are looking healthier ahead of the Light Blues’ visits.
Rangers have a larger pool of players to choose from for this last-four encounter given that they are running a B team in the Lowland League, but Hibs have beaten them twice in league games so far this season, recording a 2-1 victory in September and a 4-2 win last month – both at East Mains.
Blaney and MacIntyre situation
It remains to be seen if Blaney and Oscar MacIntyre will be involved on Friday night. Both players have been on the bench for Hibs for the last three league games and training with the first-team squad, and stringent rules forbid under-18 players from playing twice in the space of 24 hours. MacIntyre was left out of the 2-0 victory over Kilmarnock last Friday while Blaney started and was subbed off after an hour or so, but with Hibs hosting Celtic on Sunday at Easter Road there was less of an issue.
With St Johnstone visiting on Saturday and there likely to be at least ten players unavailable, first-team boss Shaun Maloney’s options for his bench will be limited even without the headache of Blaney and MacIntyre’s situation.
Hibs Under-18s are still eyeing a league and cup double and Friday night’s game is an important one for the youngsters. Evans and Academy Director Steve Kean have called upon younger players in the past – Owen Hastie, Josh Landers, Jacob MacIntyre, Rudi Molotnikov, Freddie Owens, Alfie Smith, and Brodie Watt have all been included in under-18 squads this year despite being considerably younger. Landers, for instance, was just 14 when he came on as a late sub and scored in the cup win against Montrose.
This might also explain why, despite Kevin Nisbet’s injury and James Scott’s illness, none of the young team have yet been called into the first-team group.
As it is, Evans and Kean should have a near full-strength squad to choose from. Brodie Watt is set to be involved with the Scotland Schools team on Thursday night which likely rules him out of involvement. Harry Brash, Gregor Fordyce, and Josh Landers have been involved in previous cup squads and might be called upon to beef up the bench.
Hibs squad from: Murray Johnson, Josh Blair, Jacob MacIntyre, Josh McCulloch, Mack Weir, Kanayo Megwa, Owen Hastie, Murray Aiken, Robbie Hamilton, Malik Zaid, Freddie Wylie, Alfie Smith, Rudi Molotnikov, Ethan Laidlaw, Connor Young, Josh O’Connor.