BY ALAN TEMPLE – Capital City Press
Hibernian head coach Alan Stubbs admits he is shocked bitter Championship rivals Rangers let Darren McGregor leave Ibrox after swooping to snap up the versatile defender.
McGregor, 30, was one of the few Gers stars to receive pass marks during a dismal campaign last term, playing 53 times for the Glasgow side and earning the club’s Player of the Year award.
Yet, he has been deemed completely surplus to requirements under Mark Warburton, failing to make a single appearance as Rob Keirnan and Danny Wilson command the centre-back berths.
And Stubbs admits he can hardly believe his luck after benefitting from the McGregor’s decision to mutually end his stay in Govan.
The Hibees boss said: “I’ve got to say I was surprised he became available.
“It wasn’t until around teatime on Monday that we were aware something was going on. Then once we had heard that Darren had been released, we made our intentions known to his representatives.
“From then onwards Darren wanted to come here and I just left it to other people to organise and sort the contract out. It was done very quickly in the end.
“Darren was wanting to play. He must’ve spoken to the manager and he’s told him he could go. That’s what I’m gathering.
“Then once that all happened we were in there straight away to try and get to services because we know he is a quality player. I’m surprised [he was released] but I’m delighted.”
Stubbs dismissed any suggestions that McGregor’s switch to Hibs had been mooted prior to the player’s release, insisting he did not make contact with the players until his ties with Rangers had been cut.
He added: “When we spoke to Darren he was a free agent so we’ve done everything right.”
It ends a lengthy search for defensive depth for Hibs, who have seen stoppers Keith Watson and Paul Watson pass through the club on trial in recent months without earning deals.
Stubbs continued: “We have had only four fit defenders and they’ve been playing every week.
“That was risky because, if they were to get injured, it would’ve meant playing two young lads who are not necessarily ready just yet.
“Darren is aggressive, very strong, athletic and one-versus-one he is very good. In today’s game we always look at the ball-playing centre backs but you can never have enough good defenders in your team.”
McGregor could make his Hibs debut in their League Cup second round tie against Stranraer this evening – an encounter which, Stubbs revealed, could see James Keatings make his debut for the club.
The striker has struggled with a hamstring injury since his summer switch from Hearts but is expected to be in the squad tonight.
Stubbs added: “It will be great for us to have him back, he is very instinctive and lightening in and around the box.
“There is a good chance he may play some part of the game tonight. Whether that’s 30 minutes, 45 minutes, I think we will try to get him involved.”