If any one player embodies the remarkable transformation Pat Fenlon has wrought at Easter Road then, surely, it is David Wotherspoon.
In the final months of a wretched season, the Hibs midfielder cut a forlorn figure, slipping out of Fenlon’s plans and not even making the bench for that Scottish Cup final thrashing by Capital rivals Hearts.
A lucky escape some might say, but it has, perhaps, turned out to be the turning point in the 22-year-old’s career, Wotherspoon’s performances in the opening weeks of the new season such that some can scarcely believe they are watching the same player.
Rather than having the appearance of someone carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders, there is now a spring in the step as Wotherspoon, obviously brimming with confidence, begins to fulfil the promise he carried as he broke into the first team at the age of 19, marking his debut against today’s opponents, St Mirren, with a goal.
Since then goals have been hard to come by, just four in the three seasons since. But with three in his last five matches, the latest a spectacular strike which set Hibs on their way to a convincing 4-0 win against Motherwell, at the same time propelling Hibs into second place in the SPL table, Wotherspoon has forced more than a few fans to reconsider their opinion of his worth.
Wotherspoon returned after the summer break to take his place in Fenlon’s new-look side, believing he had a point to prove, despite Fenlon’s later admission that he’d probably made a mistake in not involving the versatile youngster on that fateful day at Hampden.
Said the player: “Towards the end of last season I was starting to phase out of the team. I was finding myself on the bench or even in the stand. It wasn’t great, but I was still training as hard as I could.
“Being left out of the Cup final was a major disappointment, but that is the way football goes sometimes. I thought I needed to prove myself and show I am worth the place. What happened stuck in my mind for a wee while.
“I had to pick myself back up. I had a break, came back and looked to start afresh. I didn’t think about it all over the summer. I just thought ‘It’s done, let’s go again’.”
Wotherspoon admits he feels a different player to the one that ended last season on such a disappointing note. He said: “I went into this season and told the manager I wanted a fresh start. I have come back with a bit of freshness and less pressure, wanting to play my game. I got into a good routine in pre-season, doing as much as I could for my body. I’ve been stretching more and eating all the right things. It’s become a regular routine, almost like a superstition. It was also about getting my confidence up as much as possible as well.”
Fenlon agrees that Wotherspoon appears an entirely different player this time round and, like the youngster, believes confidence has played a huge part in his rejuvenation.
The Hibs boss said: “David was very dispirited after the Cup final but that was probably a mistake on my part. If he feels he has a point to prove to me, I don’t have a problem with that at all. The temptation might have been to sulk, but he didn’t do that. He’s taken on board what we want to do and he’s getting his rewards.
“David has real natural ability, he always has. He took a fair bit of stick which damaged his confidence, but we’ve got that back into him and he is enjoying his football. He’s worked hard on his fitness, he’s lasting games longer and I’ve been very pleased with him.”
Fenlon has also been delighted to see Wotherspoon – who had scored just four goals in three seasons in a green and white shirt – on the scoresheet on a more regular basis, but insisted there’s much more to his game, as the player agrees. Wotherspoon said: “I’ve felt great for the past few weeks. I feel confident going into the games. I’m playing in a regular position, not moving about much. It’s a consistent team with a lot of good players around me. It’s working for me and it’s a great feeling coming home with a goal to your name and a victory for the team. The manager just wants me to be as confident as I can be and concentrate as much as I can on the game. Last year I had the tendency to switch off when things weren’t going my way. I think people noticed that and I’ve tried to change.”
Hibs’ early success has, of course, helped not only Wotherspoon but Fenlon’s entire squad as the player admitted, saying: “There’s not the same pressure as last year. The squad has been magnificent so far this season, from those in the team to the boys in the stand. Everyone is pushing each other on, which is great.
“It’s a lot different from last season. Then you would come in after the weekend and feel pretty down at the start of the week. This time the boys are a lot more content and confident.”