Simon Murray was forced to watch from afar as Florian Kamberi and Jamie Maclaren forged a lethal Easter Road strikeforce, the January arrivals claiming 17 goals between them to help Hibs clinch a place in the Europa League.
Murray found himself heading for his hometown of Dundee on a crazy transfer deadline day at the end of January as former Dens Park goalkeeper Scott Bain left Hibs to join Celtic while Scott Allan, who had been on loan on Tayside, returned for a second spell in Edinburgh under a similar arrangement.
Although Neil Lennon had apparently underlined his determination to hang on to Murray – scorer at that point of 15 goals in a green-and-white shirt – by knocking back a six-figure bid from Turkish club Elazigspor only days earlier, Murray suddenly found himself on the margins as the Hibs boss sought to bring a renewed impetus to his side for the second half of the season.
So, rather than find himself a bit-part player, the 25-year-old opted for the guarantee of first-team action with the Dark Blues although, he insisted, his intention was always to return to Easter Road and resume his fight for a place in Lennon’s plans.
After pulling on a Hibs shirt for the first time in almost six months as the Easter Road side began preparing for the visit of Europa League opponents NSI Runavik next week with Saturday’s 2-0 win over Linlithgow Rose, Murray said: “January turned out to be a rather strange month, but that’s how football changes. It was all pretty hectic in the end, but I enjoyed my time in Dundee. I got plenty of game-time and hopefully that will help me for this season.
“I decided that if I was not going to feature here then I’d be better off going there and playing rather than sitting on the bench and not being able to prove what I can do. I knew Hibs would be watching how I got on, seeing how I was doing.
“But I was always coming back. I have a year left on my contract and I’m here to work hard and to try to force my way into the team.
“I haven’t spoken to the gaffer about things. I know it is up to me, that if I want to get back into the team I have to put the performances in, show the right attitude and we’ll take it from there.”
And working hard is exactly what Murray and his team-mates have been doing, the former Arbroath and Dundee United hitman admitting he’s gone through his toughest-ever pre-season.
He said: “We’ve pretty much only had two days off in the past fortnight. It’s been double sessions every day and even the day before the Linlithgow game we had a really hard running session.
“I’ve had some tough pre-seasons, but this has probably been the hardest of the lot.”
To that end, getting out onto the pitch at Prestonfield was a welcome distraction, Murray admitting the friendly encounter brought memories of his own days in the Junior ranks with Tayport.
He said: “I’ve always remembered the route I have taken and I enjoyed it. I’d never played against Linlithgow, but I did score a hat-trick for Arbroath just down the road against Bo’ness United a few years ago.
“Linlithgow have a nice set-up and I’m sure their boys would have appreciated us coming through to play them. They’d have loved it and in the end it was a good pre-season work-out for both clubs.”
Two second-half goals from Danny Swanson ensured the expected win from Hibs, but Murray believes no-one should read too much into what they saw.
He said: “It wasn’t the best of performances from us as everyone saw, but it’s all about getting rid of that rustiness. It’s like anything else, if you’ve had a bit of a break you are a bit sluggish to start with. As in Wednesday’s game at Berwick and Sunday’s match with Blackburn Rovers, it’s about the boys feeling their way round the pitch and renewing those little partnerships throughout the team.
“We are a fit team. Now it’s a case of getting that sharpness we need and the game against Linlithgow was the first step in doing that.”
Murray made an explosive start to last season after signing on a free transfer from United, making the most of Hibs’ Betfred Cup campaign to score seven goals in the four group games, including a hat-trick against his former club Arbroath.
The start to this season, though, will be a little different with the first qualifying round of the Europa League – and hopefully another double-header against Greek club Asteras Tripolis to follow – although Murray admitted no-one at Easter Road was taking NSi Runavik of the Faroe Islands lightly.
He said: “It’s my first time in Europe, which makes it very exciting. We don’t know much about them, They aren’t a side we’ve played before or seen, but we know they are already well into their season, which will make for a tough couple of games.”