Jack Ross has challenged Hibernian maverick Scott Allan to build on his impressive second-half display against St Mirren and re-establish himself in the side.
For so long a talismanic figure at Easter Road, the 29-year-old has not started a top-flight match since August 2020.
Allan endured a harrowing lay-off from September to January when his career was in the balance after he was diagnosed with a serious heart problem.
Since getting the all-clear to return to contention at the start of this year, Allan has struggled to win back his place in Ross’ team, with Jake Doyle-Hayes, Joe Newell and Kyle Magennis all moving ahead of him in the battle for a central midfield berth.
He had a short spell on loan at Championship side Inverness in the closing stages of last term in order to try to build up his fitness, but since returning to his parent club in the summer, he has started only one of Hibs’ 11 matches this term: the home leg of the Europa Conference League tie against Santa Coloma in July, when he lasted only 31 minutes before going off injured.
After being sent on in left midfield as a substitute at the start of the second half of Saturday’s 2-2 draw against St Mirren – a club he almost joined on transfer deadline day – Allan showed he can still be a key man for Hibs.
Ross said: “My opinion of Scott hasn’t changed. He wasn’t somebody we were pushing out the door. He had that potential opportunity (to go to St Mirren) and he wants to play, understandably, like any player does.
“But given how the past year has gone for him, off pitch as well, and the fact we’ve been doing well as a team, he’s got to try to get into that team.
“Against St Mirren he had an opportunity to go on at half-time and effect the game, and he certainly did that. That’s great for him first and foremost, and great for me to have that potential quandary moving forward.”
Ross insists the key for Allan is regaining peak match fitness levels, which has been a problem since the form of others has helped keep him on the sidelines.
Ross said: “I don’t think the health issue comes into it now because once he worked through that period and was given assurances that he was OK, the decision about whether to play him is based on what we’re seeing and also how other players are performing. Middle to front, we’ve been pretty good for a while.
“And also when you strip it back, he’s not played a lot of games at this level for a long time now. I know he had a spell in the Championship (with Inverness) but it’s a different league.
“It’s difficult to build up that run of games if you’re not getting selected to start matches but equally you need to be at those levels, and I think that’s what he can work towards.
“He’s probably still got a little bit to go with that (fitness) but his sharpness of thought is still there. He showed against St Mirren he’s still an asset within the squad, and I think that was good for him psychologically to have that impact on the game.”
Allan came on at the start of the second half when Hibs trailed to an Eamonn Brophy goal. The midfielder’s sublime pass set up Paul McGinn for an equaliser before Martin Boyle put Hibs ahead. Joe Shaughnessy rescued a point for Saints late on.
Ross added: “The vision and execution Scott showed for that pass (to McGinn) has never been in doubt. He knows that’s the special thing he has, and we know it.
“We never doubt he can produce that, hence the reason we put him on because we felt we needed that in the game. He’s then got to produce it, and he did that.”