Hibs’ new loan star told to expect ‘good standard’

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DAVID STEPHENS today warned Hibs new boy George Francomb he’s in for a rude awakening if he thinks he’s in for an easy life in the SPL.

Stephens and Francomb were youth players together at Norwich City and while delighted to see the fellow defender arrive in Edinburgh, the Easter Road defender has told his old team-mate he’ll find it tough going.

And Stephens knows just how hard it can be, the 20-year-old only now beginning to establish himself as a first-team regular some 18 months after making the move from Carrow Road to the Capital.

The Welsh Under-21 internationalist said: “I think people sometimes have mixed views about the SPL, but I’ve told George it’s a good league, a good standard.

“One week you can be playing in front of 50,000 or 60,000 people at places like Ibrox and Celtic Park; the next there’s a crowd of 4000. But every game is important. It’s not just about Rangers and Celtic – every team is a force to be reckoned with at the moment.”

Hibs are finding that out at present, Pat Fenlon’s side going into today’s match against Dunfermline just one point in front of the SPL’s basement outfit, but Stephens firmly believes Francomb is ready for the fight ahead.

Admitting he was surprised to learn the Canaries’ youngster was to follow in his footsteps, signing on loan until the end of the season, he said: “I think it came right out of the blue for George.

“He called to say he was coming up and when I asked him how it had come about he told me it was something of a surprise to him as well, that Paul Lambert had only told him on Wednesday.

“I don’t know if Hibs have been watching him or if it was on Paul Lambert’s recommendation, but I think George sees this as an opportunity for him to play some first-team football.

“He knows this is a big club, the position we are in and that it is up to him to do the business. He seems excited to be here, he had his first training session with us on Thursday, liked the facilities we have at East Mains and thought it had gone well.

“George is a player with a lot of heart and desire, which I know the manager likes. He’s quite calm under pressure, he uses the ball well and likes to get up and down the park as well.”

Stephens has already taken Francomb on a tour of Edinburgh, but, he revealed, the new signing still needs a little time to find his bearings: “George knows today’s match is a big one for us, but he actually thought it was a derby because Dunfermline is pretty close to Edinburgh.

“I had to tell him the derby is Hearts. He still appreciates how big today’s game is to us, but I think he was actually more nervous about meeting the rest of the boys as Norwich has more or less been his only club.

“I’ve told him the boys are a good bunch and that I’ll take him under my wing. I picked him up from his hotel after he arrived and took him about town to help him familiarise himself and to have a look at the stadium.”

Stephens has kept in close contact with Francomb since signing for John Hughes the summer before last and he admits his own experiences in Edinburgh perhaps helped sway his pal’s thinking. He said: “George and I started at Under-16s together and were part of Norwich’s team that got to the quarter-final of the FA Youth Cup before being knocked out by Manchester City.

“We also lived near each other and since I moved to Edinburgh I’ve spoken to him quite a lot on the phone and we’ve also texted each other regularly. I think George sees Hibs as a good club for young players, somewhere you will get a chance to play.

“I’m sure he hasn’t come up here simply to train and take part in bounce games. He’ll be wanting a place in the side, but he also knows he’ll have to fight for it like the rest of us.”

Francomb’s current contract in East Anglia expires this summer raising the thought he might earn an extended deal north of the Border if he shines between now and May, but Stephens insisted it was far too early to start talking of the new arrival’s future.

He said: “I don’t know what is going on contract-wise with George, but I know he is highly thought of at Norwich. If he does well here you never know what might happen, but it’s too early to say.”

Stephens himself has had to wait for the chance to pin down a regular starting place and having missed out on the William Hill Scottish Cup win over Cowdenbeath last weekend, has his fingers crossed he’ll be involved today, particularly with Sean O’Hanlon suspended.

He said: “It’s a big match – one we are all looking forward to – but I don’t think there’s any talking to be done in regard to it, it speaks for itself.

“Team selection is up to the manager, of course, but from my own point of view, I want to stay in the team and to be as consistent as possible.”