Hibs Covid-19 drama: Which Under-18s players could make the step up to the first team?
The wee Hibees have been performing well in the league and cup and there have been calls from supporters to include some of them in the Easter Road first-team squad in a bid to freshen up performances.
So who are the club’s crop of talented youngsters and which ones might be called upon come Wednesday night?
If any of the club’s senior goalkeepers are ruled out of the fixture, Murray Johnson could step up to the first team squad. The 16-year-old often takes part in first-team training sessions and on numerous occasions has been involved in the pre-match warm-up with the senior ‘keepers. The highly-rated shot-stopper has international experience at Under-16 level and has been involved with Scotland Under-17s as well.
Hibs have a number of versatile defenders in the Under-18 squad. Jacob Blaney, who was one of several youngsters to sign his first professional deal in January, is currently sidelined through injury but regular partner in central defence Mack Weir could be called upon to provide cover in the first team.
A threat at set-pieces, he scored in the recent 7-0 Scottish FA Youth Cup victory over Montrose at East Mains and has more physical presence than many defenders at his age group.
Kanayo Megwa, who recently signed after a successful trial period, can operate at right-back or centre-back while Josh McCulloch has featured at right-back, right wing-back, and in midfield and was on the scoresheet this season against Rangers and Hamilton Accies.
McCulloch and Weir signed professional deals in September, keeping them at the club until January 2022. Both have fought back from injury to become key members of the 18s squad.
Oscar MacIntyre is the Under-18s’ starting left-back, although he is capable of playing further forward and has occasionally featured on the left wing. Tough in the tackle, quick, and not shy of shooting from distance, he turned out for Hibs during pre-season and is well thought-of by the staff at HTC.
Jack Brydon and Jayden Fairley have both featured for the Under-18s and B team this season but both are on loan at Civil Service Strollers and unlikely to be recalled.
There are a host of midfield players who could be added to Wednesday night’s squad. Melker Hallberg and Kyle Magennis are both out injured while Scott Allan missed the 3-1 defeat by Celtic through illness and was rated doubtful for the Ross County game on Saturday so could also be missing.
Murray Aiken has played both centrally and on the right, and was also on the scoresheet against Montrose. A hard-worker with a good range of passing who likes to support the attack, he was another of the crop of youngsters handed professional deals in January and recently trained with the first-team squad.
Robbie Hamilton is another who has had training time with the senior squad. Only just back in action after a spell on the sidelines but capable of playing in defensive, central, and attacking midfield and has an eye for goal as well.
Other players to have featured in midfield for the 18s in recent weeks include Freddie Wylie, who scored the second goal in Friday night’s 6-0 win against Hamilton and Malek Zaid, the Libyan-born player who came recommended to the Easter Road side by legendary Hutchison Vale figurehead Tam Smith and scored his first goal in the 3-0 victory over Motherwell at the start of month. Ben Reilly, who joined Hibs from St Johnstone’s youth set-up last season, has been featuring off the bench in recent weeks but is probably further down the pecking order than some of his team-mates.
Innes Murray, 23, has featured for the B team this term but is on loan at League Two side Edinburgh City and like Brydon and Fairley, is unlikely to be recalled.
The likes of Jacob MacIntyre and Rudi Molotnikov, who have featured for the Under-18s this term, are at the younger end of the scale and almost certainly won’t be considered for involvement.
The injury suffered by Christian Doidge has left Hibs with just one out-and-out striker in the mould of Kevin Nisbet, with Jamie Gullan and Martin Boyle more used to wider roles.
There will be few Hibs fans out there who are unfamiliar with the exploits of Josh O’Connor and Connor Young. The strikers have been scoring for fun for Eddie May and Gareth Evans’ side, leading to repeated calls for their inclusion in the first team.
The duo have scored 18 goals in all competitions between them, with Young hitting 21 goals in 17 appearances since the start of 2021.
Ethan Laidlaw is the only member of the 18s team to have had ample first-team exposure, having been an unused substitute on three occasions but with the forward away on international duty with Scotland Under-17s and potentially playing in Tuesday’s match against Italy in Portadown, he could be ruled out of the Scottish Premiership clash.
As with the other loanees 19-year-old Stevie Bradley, currently at Ayr United, is unlikely to be brought back either.
So who comes in?
Assuming there are no further injuries or positive tests among the first-team squad, there are a handful of places up for grabs. A lot depends on which players will miss the trip to Dingwall on Wednesday night but with Jack Ross, John Potter, and David Gray all having taken in some of the Under-18 matches this season, as well as running the rule over a handful of the players during first-team training sessions, it would seem likely that Aiken, Hamilton, O’Connor, and Young stand a good chance of involvement while McCulloch and Weir could be in contention as well.