It was the moment that never looked like coming for Sean Murdoch, the phonecall from fellow goalkeeper Ben Williams signalling only his second game in two seasons for Hibs.
Before the Easter Road club’s two previous games, Murdoch had been on stand-by, ready to step in the moment Williams’ wife Gemma went into labour. Williams, however, had travelled for each of those matches, away to Inverness Caley and Partick Thistle, leaving Murdoch to take his usual seat on the bench.
Last Saturday morning was different, though, Williams ringing to let him know the birth of his second son was imminent, giving Murdoch a precious few hours to get his head around the fact that he’d be between the sticks for the first time since May when he helped the Capital club to a 3-1 win at Rugby Park.
The outcome this time round, however, was less satisfying, Terry Butcher’s side slipping to yet another defeat, beaten by St Johnstone as their hopes of claiming a top six finish for the first time in four seasons were dashed, the McDiarmid Park outfit taking that coveted spot in the upper half of the Scottish Premiership table.
But amid the dark clouds there was, as fas as Murdoch was concerned, a ray of sunshine, with the 27-year-old hoping he’s done enough to convince boss Terry Butcher he should retain his place for Sunday’s derby at Tynecastle – a game that as a Hibs fan he’s dreamt of playing in all his life.
Despite being beaten by Saints Steve MacLean and a Ryan McGivern own goal, Murdoch produced a string of impressive saves, most notably from a point-blank David Wotherspoon header, his display prompting Butcher to describe him as “easily” Hibs best player on yet another day of disappointment for the Easter Road side.
Today Murdoch said: “On a personal level I really enjoyed the game. I was happy with my own performance, it was just a shame we were beaten.
“That’s the life of a goalkeeper, you can have what you believe is a good game and yet end up on the losing side.
“It had been a while since my last game, but that’s all credit to Ben, who has been consistent. I want to play but I don’t have a problem when the goalkeeper in front of you is doing well.
“I’d never once gone to the manager’s door and said I should be playing because of Ben’s consistency. He’s been excellent for the past two seasons, but equally Ben knows I am not here to be the No 2.
“Hopefully I’ve given the manager something to think about this week and obviously I want to play at Tynecastle. As a Hibs fan I’ve been to plenty of derbies. It’s a game I’ve always dreamt of playing in,
“But I also want to play in as many games as I can between now and the end of the season. I’m out-of-contract then, but I want a new deal and to be able to show what I can do.”
Sunday’s derby, though, has overtones like no other with the possibility of a Hibs victory consigning their biggest rivals to playing in the Championship next season. But while plenty will be said and written about such a scenario over the coming days, Murdoch insisted he and his team-mates were only concerned in helping themselves, conscious of the fact Hibs’ miserable record of late has raised the threat of Butcher’s players being dragged into a battle to avoid the play-off place.
Hibs currently enjoy a seven-goal cushion over 11th placed St Mirren, a gap which they are anxious to extend.
Murdoch said: “A couple of wins should keep us safe. We know the situation we are in, but no-one is panicking. We have a good squad, but confidence is perhaps a bit low.
“A derby is always a special occasion no matter the circumstances, but we need to keep clear heads, to think only of what three points can do for us.
“It’s a bit of a coincidence that it’s come to this. I do feel a bit sorry for them, but we know the regulations, and, as I say, we are focused on ourselves.
“Every place means money to the club, money I’m sure the chairman and manager want for the budget, so we want to hold onto seventh.”
Whether Murdoch or Williams faces Hearts this weekend is, of course, a decision for Butcher, but while the pair are rivals for the gloves they are good friends, as evidenced by the fact Murdoch was among the first to be alerted to the fact his team-mate’s new arrival was on his way.
He said: “I always prepare myself for a game whether or not I’ll be playing. We are all professionals and you never know when you might be called upon, so you have to make sure you are right both mentally and physically. I’d been put on stand-by for both the Inverness and Partick games just in case as Ben, quite rightly, wanted to be with his wife for the birth.
“But on both occasions Ben was available to play. Ben and I are close mates, we keep in touch outside football, so I’d asked him to give me the heads up, a wee call, if anything was happening to give me that wee bit extra time to get focused on the game. So I got the call Saturday morning about ten o’clock.”