On-loan Celtic pair set for major say as Hibs host Aberdeen
If everything had gone the way Scott Allan and Ryan Christie had hoped, the pair would be lining up tomorrow night as team-mates in Celtic's Europa League clash with Zenit St Petersburg.
Regarded as two of the brightest midfield talents in the Scottish game, Allan and Christie’s futures seemed assured as, within weeks of each other in the summer of 2015, they were snapped up by the Hoops.
However, the two were to start just one match together for the Glasgow club, Allan’s nomadic existence resuming as he was farmed out on loan to Rotherham United and Dundee before finding himself back in Edinburgh with Hibs.
Christie’s recent past has been somewhat less complicated, the former Inverness Caley kid impressing Aberdeen boss Derek McInnes enough during an initial loan spell at Pittodrie to have that period extended for the whole of this season.
Now Allan and Christie will find themselves going head-to-head at Easter Road this Saturday, an intriguing sub-plot in the Premiership’s match of the day as Neil Lennon’s side bid to haul themselves that little bit closer to second-placed Aberdeen and European football next season.
It’s a chance, some might say, for one or the other to steal a march in trying to win over Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers but, as far as former Hibs midfielder Kevin Thomson is concerned, that should be the furthest thought from their minds come Saturday.
He said: “There’s no getting away from it, they are both really talented players, clever players and similar in that they make things happen. They can pick passes and simply glide past opposition players.
“But both need to chip in with a few more goals while Scott won’t need me to tell him he needs to find more consistency.”
While Christie has found himself probably one of the first names on McInnes’ teamsheet each week, Allan, feels Thomson, has to look at the progress John McGinn has made since switching from St Mirren to Hibs.
The two were – very briefly – in the same Alan Stubbs side at Easter Road before Allan’s push for a move saw him clinch a four-year deal with Celtic rather than his prefered choice of boyhood heroes Rangers.
Thomson said: “Only Scott can say if that move to Celtic was the right one or not. In that season with Hibs,he was the Championship player of the year but since then John has built up a big reputation.
“I’d imagine Scott has a bit of frustration within him but he needs to get that consistency and work his way back to where he will feel he deserves to be playing.
“Scott and Ryan won’t be the first young players to discover how hard it is to break into an Old Firm team – I know that from my own experience.
“They found themselves having limited chances, up against the likes of Scott Brown, Tom Rogic, an Australian internationalist who has done really well at Celtic, and Stuart Armstrong, who was being linked with a £20 million move, among others. Having said that, it’s good to see talent such as theirs staying here in Scotland and not going down the road.
“Obviously, they both have plenty of talent as I have said but sometimes in football you have to look after No.1. If I was going to give them any advice I’d be saying that regardless of trying to impress Brendan Rodgers and get back to Celtic Park, they should be going out every week to showcase their ability, promoting themselves at every opportunity should there be any other suitors out there.”
Such thoughts, however, are likely to be far from the thoughts of both Allan and Christie this weekend in a match which, concedes Thomson, Hibs need to win if they are to retain any hope of reeling in Aberdeen. who currently enjoy an eight-point advantage over them. The Dons have won both matches between the clubs this season, a narrow 1-0 victory at Easter Road followed by an emphatic 4-1 thumping of Lennon’s side, the Hibs boss bemoaning the punishing schedule which his players had endured, their third game in just six days following clashes with Celtic and Rangers.
Thomson said: “It was a bit smash-and-grab from Aberdeen in the first game. They ended the match with five or six centre backs on the pitch which, I think, tells a story.
“Hibs were disappointing at Pittodrie – there’s no question about that, but they are on a decent run of form, winning at Ibrox having beaten Motherwell and Dundee. Up to that point, it looked as if they might be starting to fall away a bit but those results have stabilised them in fourth place and,if they win on Saturday, they will be right in the mix.
“The thing with Neil Lennon is that he always backs his team to win whoever and wherever they are playing. He seems to take the attitude they have nothing to lose so they just have a go.
“Both teams have that great attribute in the final third, pace. Aberdeen seemed to have lost it when Jonny Hayes and Niall McGinn left but McGinn is back and Gary Mackay-Steven is in top form and, with Graeme Shinnie – although he is suspended for this one – and Kenny McLean behind them, they have a great attacking ethos.
“Hibs are unlucky with Brandon Barker out injured just as he was really making an impact but Martin Boyle remains a big threat. It promises to be an exciting game between two teams who like to go forward.”