How Craig Gordon's misfortune has proved a real tonic for Hibs
When Efe Ambrose clattered into former team-mate and Celtic goalkeeper Craig Gordon four days before the end of January few, if any, would have predicted the knock-on effect that apparently innocuous moment would spark.
And now, eight weeks on, there’s little doubt that the incident has ended up giving Hibs’ bid to clinch second place in the Ladbrokes Premiership a real shot in the arm.
As it became apparent Scotland stopper Gordon would be out for up to three months with a knee injury, Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers was faced with a race against time to find a back-up for his only other goalkeeper Dorus De Vries, highly-rated Northern Irish youngster Conor Hazard having been allowed to join Falkirk on loan only a few days earlier.
At that point, it appeared the problem was purely Celtic’s, Rodgers moving quickly to try to secure the signature of Motherwell’s Trevor Carson. However, the Fir Park outfit – holding out for £500,000 for a player they’d paid Hartlepool a reputed £20,000 only last summer – rejected two offers from the Hoops, the second said to be worth £375,000.
Faced with Motherwell’s refusal to do business, Rodgers was forced to look elsewhere.
And so transpired an unlikely and totally unexpected three-way deal hammered out in the closing hours of transfer deadline day as Rodgers’ attention switched to Scott Bain, the Dundee goalkeeper who had joined Hibs on loan on New Year’s Day having fallen out with Dens Park boss Neil McCann.
As the minutes ticked down, it became clear it wasn’t as straighforward as that, former Hibs midfielder Scott Allan, then on loan at Dundee, returing for a second spell at the club while the Capital side’s top scorer Simon Murray headed for Tayside.
Such was the speed with which things were finally concluded, Bain turned up at Celtic Park that night still wearing his Hibs training gear having earlier reported to Easter Road for the Premiership match against Motherwell.
As he signed on in Glasgow, goalkeeper Cammy Bell, having woken up a Kilmarnock player that morning, was doing likewise in Edinburgh where striker Anthony Stokes had been shown the door having pushed his luck with head coach Neil Lennon once too often.
Confused and complicated it may have been but, in the intervening few weeks, it has become clear Lennon, who also bolstered his squad with the signings of Swiss striker Florian Kamberi and Australian hitman Jamie Maclaren, has emerged from it all with a stronger and reinvigorated squad.
Allan has slotted back in as if he’s never been away, complementing the talents of John McGinn and Dylan McGeouch in the middle of the park, adding that touch of creativity which Lennon felt his side, despite an impressive return to the top flight, had been lacking.
A man-of-the-match performance as Hibs defeated Rangers at Ibrox on his second-time-around debut has been backed by a string of equally eye-catching displays while, up front, Kamberi and Maclaren have already formed a promising partnership.
The strength of Kamberi and a willingness to play with his back to goal – and an eye for it – works well with the darting runs of Maclaren, who is always looking to play on the shoulder which makes him a pest for any defender to handle.
Bell, meanwhile, passed his first test with flying colours, producing an excellent display to ensure Hibs a share of the spoils against St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park last Friday after entering the fray 15 minutes into the match following Ofir Marciano’s red card. Bell will retain the gloves when Partick visit Easter Road on Saturday week but his display in Perth leaves little doubt the former Rangers and Dundee United man is up to the task.
The changes brought about by Lennon have undoubtedly breathed new life into his side as witnessed by results since the turn of the year, that defeat at Celtic Park their only one in eight as they’ve continued to push both Rangers and Aberdeen for second place in the table – a goal which is undoubtedly within their reach.