BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
HIBS goalkeeper Ross Laidlaw insists his maiden campaign at Easter Road exceeded his wildest dreams after recovering from a career-threatening injury to star for the capital club.
There were genuine fears that the 24-year-old would never play again when he suffered a devastating kidney tear in a collision with former Raith Rovers teammate Ross Callachan, leaving the towering stopper in a high dependency hospital unit and requiring the organ to be repaired by a specialist.
The damage saw Laidlaw miss the entirety of the 2015/16 campaign and he readily admits that he was stunned when Hibs came calling last summer, snapping him up from the Fifers on a one-year deal.
Initially expected to act as cover for Otso Virtanen, he quickly usurped the Finland under-21 internationalist between the sticks, impressing in Hibs’ narrow Europa League exit against Brondby. Even after the arrival of Ofir Marciano as number one, Laidlaw went on to rack up 17 appearances for the Hibees.
Little wonder, then, that he had no hesitation in extending his contract for a further two years this week.
Laidlaw beamed: “I just wanted to come in, get myself fit, and hopefully play a few games.
“I was coming off the back of a season where I didn’t play a single game for Raith Rovers, so if someone had said to me I was going to feature in Europe and play almost 20 games for Hibs then I wouldn’t have believed them.
“I have loved every minute of it, to play so many games and win promotion was fantastic – and I was delighted to sign a new deal and get ready for the Premiership, where I think this club belongs.”
Laidlaw concedes he was subjected to a baptism of fire at Hibs when he was named in the starting line-up for the Europa League second qualifying round tie against Brondby last July.
Trailing 1-0 from the first leg in Edinburgh following a woeful error by Virtanen after just 17 seconds, Laidlaw got the nod from head coach Neil Lennon to play in Copenhagen – his first competitive start since a 5-4 defeat against Annan Athletic which on loan at Elgin in April 2015.
He told Hibs TV: “My first game was against Brondby and it was amazing to get a start over there. I remeber the manager pulling me a side and saying ‘are you comfortable to play tonight?’
“I was delighted, but obviously a wee bit nervous. My last game had been on loan with Elgin, so that was a wee bit different!
“It was a great experience and the boys in front of me that night did really well. We were unlucky not to go through that night.”
Meanwhile, Alex Harris is set to leave Hibs when his current contract expires.
The 22-year-old was a revelation when he emerged through the youth ranks under Pat Fenlon, with his crowning moment coming as he inspired the Hibees to recover from a 3-0 deficit to claim a remarkable 4-3 win over Falkirk in the 2012/13 Scottish Cup semi-final.
However, the winger has struggled for consistency ever since, drifting in and out of the team under Terry Butcher, Alan Stubbs and Neil Lennon, spending periods on loan with Dundee and Queen of the South.
And, despite featuring for the capital club towards the tail end of this season, he has not done enough to earn a new deal ahead of Hibs’ return to the top-flight next term.