Youth, goals and redemption - key talking points from Hibs v St Johnstone

Whittaker’s debut makes a statement about opportunities for youth at Hibs
Whittaker’s debut makes a statement about opportunities for youth at Hibs

On a day when youth was given its head, there wasn’t much chance of Hibs fans losing theirs completely.

They’ve been down this road before too often, carry the memory of too many painful memories, to get completely swept up in the hype.

Still, you must admit, the young lad Rory Whittaker did look promising. A clean sheet isn’t too be sniffed at. It’s always exciting to see a couple of goals … and to go above you-know-who in the table.

Actually, on balance, why shouldn’t supporters allow themselves to imagine that a corner has been turned or season kick-started?

Let’s take a look at the major talking points from Nick Montgomery’s first home game as Hibs match, an ultimately comfortable 2-0 win over St Johnstone that might have ended with an even bigger scoreline in favour of the hosts.

The kids are all right …

At 16 years and 44 days, Whittaker – so tender in years that describing him as a “lifelong” or “boyhood” Hibs fan seems ridiculous – became the youngest debutant in the history of the club.

The fact that Montgomery was willing to pitch the youngster into Scottish Premiership action, with 20 minutes of the game still remaining, said plenty about the new gaffer’s approach to youth.

Any manager can talk the talk about promoting from within. Montgomery backed up his words by inviting Whittaker to train with the first team on the basis of one under-18s match, rewarding his work in those sessions with a place in the match day squad – and then trusting him to cope with the bare-knuckle environment of grown-up football in a league that ought to come with an R18 rating.

Vorsprung through variety

Suddenly, Hibs look as if they have a forward unit capable of inflicting damage on any team.

In Montgomery’s first game in charge, Dylan Vente and Christian Doidge looked like a promising strike pairing.

With Doidge recovering from a horrific eye injury sustained at Rugby Park, Adam Le Fondre was excellent in setting up Vente to score his second goal in as many games.

Throw in the wide threat of players like Martin Boyle, Jair Tavares and Elie Youan – and there’s a real potency to the Hibs attack.

“We’ve got options in the front area,” said Montgomery, who had to turn to a heavily-bandaged Doidge as a late substitute.

The manager admitted: “I didn’t really want to use Doidgy - he’s getting his stitches out tonight. The first aerial ball he challenged for I was cringing! He’ll be fresh for Wednesday.

“I always try to give the front players licence to do what they feel is right in the moment. It’s like a front four at times. If everybody understands, then we will play with that free-flowing football.”

Keeping it clean matters

Defensively, the fact that Hibs kept a clean sheet – something they hadn’t managed even once under Lee Johnson this season, with David Gray at the helm for the 2-0 win over Aberdeen just before Montgomery’s arrival – felt like an important statement.

Yes, David Marshall had to make one brilliant save. After a corner caused problems for the Hibs defence.

But the big zero in the goals against column on the day will have offered encouragement to a unit in need of some confidence.

Tavares still missing the odd angle

It was great to see Jair Tavares get 53 minutes of first team action under his belt, having been frozen out completely by Johnson.

The Portuguese winger, making his first start since August of 2022, was never going to be match sharp and predictably faded. But he could be like a new signing for Hibs, once he gets up to speed.