BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
DARREN McGREGOR reckons Hibs will face a revitalised Raith Rovers this weekend thanks to the appointment of former Easter Road favourite John Hughes as boss.
However, the 31-year-old is determined to deny Hughes a dream debut – while ensuring the capital club strengthen their stranglehold on the Championship title race.
‘Yogi’ was named Gary Locke’s successor at Stark’s Park last Friday and, in a twist of fate, the Leith-born coach will welcome the Hibees to Fife in his first match in charge, renewing acquaintances with the club he represented for four years as a player and one as manager.
However, his sole focus is on ensuring Neil Lennon’s side open up a nine point gap at the summit – and do not succumb to a repeat of their 1-1 draw against Ayr United in their last league outing.
McGregor said: “Obviously, they have a new manager in there that is quite familiar with this club!
“He’ll have them really geed up and he’ll be desperate to win. We are well aware of that, but I truly believe that, with the squad we have, we can go there and solidify our place at the top of the league.
“We can learn a lot from the Ayr game the other week. Complacency crept in and we definitely were not up to our normal levels. We need to look at that game as a warning.
“This weekend is a huge incentive, we have a great opportunity to go nine points clear and that is about what we do at Raith Rovers.”
Ofir Marciano is set to retain his place between the sticks for the Easter Road outfit this weekend following his shock comeback against Hearts.
The Israeli internationalist was pitched straight into his first ever Edinburgh derby following three weeks on the sidelines following a back injury picked up against Bonnyrigg Rose – and proceeded to turn in a marvellous display.
In a turgid encounter of few chances, he made key interventions to deny Esmael Goncalves in the opening exchanges before spreading himself to block a point-blank volley from Bjorn Johnsen in the second half.
McGregor continued: “Hearts had a couple of good chances and I think Ofir made a couple of world class saves.
“Big Ross [Laidlaw] has come in and done well, but Ofir is our number one and to get him back is massive.
“In the first five minutes, the save he pulls off [from Goncalves] is world class.
“That immediately settles his nerves and reassures the boys at the back that we have a top keeper. behind us.”
While McGregor has no intention of allowing the prospect of next Wednesday’s replay against the Jambos derail their Championship push, he admits he is desperate to repeat the heroics of last season, when the Hibees dumped Hearts out at Easter Road before going on to win the trophy.
And, with Hibs currently on a six-game unbeaten run in Edinburgh derbies, McGregor is adamant the difference in divisions between the sides will count for nothing.
He told Hibs TV: “We’re confident that there isn’t much between the sides. From a neutral perspective, people may look at us being in the Championship and us being in the Premiership and say ‘well, they are the better team’.
“I think we showed on Sunday that we have enough to match them and, even looking at our bench, we have Premiership players throughout the squad. We’re more than confident we can take them back to Easter Road and win.
“Last season was a similar predicament – taking them back to Easter Road after a draw – and we all know what happened there! We’re just looking to recreate that.”