Hibernian head coach Jack Ross lavished praise on Stevie Mallan after the mercurial midfielder grasped his long-awaited opportunity to shine against Brora Rangers.
The 24-year-old has endured a frustrating campaign after slipping down the pecking order at Easter Road, making just five substitute appearances prior to his man-of-the-match showing in the Betfred Cup.
Mallan marked his first start of the season with a clinical brace, striking twice in the opening 12 minutes. He was inches away from claiming a hat-trick when a curling drive whipped just wide of the post.
While Dale Gillespie's second half free-kick for the Highland League champions halved arrears, it was fitting that Mallan had the last word, with his corner-kick finding Paul Hanlon to make it 3-1.
Ross said: "Stevie [Mallan] contributed two goals and an assist for the third – and that shows what Stevie has. He has that ability to create and score from the middle of the pitch.
"He has been unfortunate not to play more this season, as we have used the fewest number of players in the Premiership. That has been testimony to our consistency in the league.
"But Stevie has continued to train well and his performance was good against Brora."
Asked whether there was an additional onus on Mallan to stake his claim, Ross added: "I don't put undue pressure on players to prove anything to me – but they all understand there is competition."
Brora boss Steven Mackay insists his players – in their first competitive match since March – did the club proud by giving their high-flying Premiership opponents a proper contest in Edinburgh.
He said: "I'm immensely proud of our players. They showed character and responded really well to going 2-0 down.
"Our levels of confidence increased even more in the second half and on another day, if we were a little braver, we may have got a second."