Hibs kid Alex Harris has vowed to repay the faith boss Terry Butcher has placed in him as he battles to recapture the scintillating form which made him one of the hottest properties in Scottish football.
The 19-year-old is the first to admit he’s not been at his best since returning to first team action after five months out after breaking a bone in his right ankle on the opening day of the Scottish Premiership season, the victim of a late lunge from Motherwell defender Shaun Hutchinson.
But, he insisted, his game is slowly but surely coming together again, the flying winger heartened by the fact Butcher has continued to name him in his starting line-up while his long-term future has been secured by the signing of a new contract which ties him to the club until the summer of 2017.
“To be honest, I thought I’d be playing Under-20 football at the moment,” said the former Edinburgh Academy pupil. “But because of injuries and suspensions I’ve come back earlier than I thought and I’ve been playing week in, week out.
“Obviously I’m glad to be back, it was a long time out, but I haven’t really kicked on yet. Personally I’ve been a bit disappointed with my form but it is a matter, as the manager has told me, of building up by match sharpness and I have been feeling stronger and fitter with each game.
“I was flying at the end of last season and I suppose everyone expected me just to come back and be exactly the same again. But it’s not as if you can just flick a switch and that happens. I was out for five months, missed more than 20 matches, and it does take time no matter who you are to get back to where you were.
“I’m sure that as games go on I’ll improve, take confidence and everything will come together again for me. The gaffer has shown faith in me by playing me each week. He has confidence in me which is a compliment. It’s great to be involved but I need to keep improving, building up match fitness and sharpness game by game.”
However, Harris insisted his own personal fight for full fitness is secondary to Hibs pushing into the top six, the youngster, like his manager and team-mates, bemoaning the fact they didn’t do so at the weekend after being left to settle for a draw against Kilmarnock, a result which hauled them level with St Johnstone who now just shade that particular race on goal difference although they do have a game in hand – at home to Motherwell tonight.
“It was most definitely a case of two points dropped,” conceded Harris as he reflected on the 1-1 draw at Rugby Park, Danny Haynes’ first goal for the club cancelling out Rory McKenzie’s opener for Killie with Hibs unable to turn their second half domination into further goals.
He added: “We wanted to build on our victory over Ross County the previous week with another three points, our aim all season having been to cement our position in the top six.
“I thought we controlled most of the game against Killie so it was disappointing not to have gone on to win it, even more so when we learned afterwards that St Johnstone had been beaten at home by Inverness Caley and we could have gone two points ahead of them.
“That would really have turned up the heat on St Johnstone ahead of their game tonight but we’ve applied a little more pressure by getting level with them. But while we weren’t able to fully capitalise on their defeat there was a positive for us in that we went away from home, fell behind but came back to get something from the game.
“We spoke immediately after the match and agreed we have to improve in the final third, to get better balls into the penalty area as we didn’t really create too many chances or force their goalkeeper to make many saves.”
Haynes’ second-half header was another plus point as far as Hibs were concerned, the on-loan Notts County frontman denied a second goal only by a superb block from Kilmarnock captain Manual Pascali when he seemed certain to turn Liam Craig’s pass beyond goalkeeper Craig Samson.
Harris said: “It was good for Danny to get off the mark, it was a great header from Sam Stanton’s cross. It was important for us to get that equaliser when we did and I’m sure he’ll bag a few more for us in the coming weeks.”
If Harris believes he could have been playing Under-20s football at the moment then, he admitted, he’s finding playing for the first team not too far removed with fellow teenagers Stanton and Danny Handling, both named in the Scotland Under-21 squad for next Wednesday’s friendly with Hungary at Tannadice, along with another graduate from the academy at East Mains, Jordon Forster, all firmly in Butcher’s plans at present.
He said: “It’s great for us to be playing with guys we’ve been brought up with.
“We’ve all been with the club for years and are good mates because of that.
“There’s loads of good quality youngsters coming through the youth system at Hibs as there has been for many, many years.”