Callum BOOTH knew he would be dropped as a nightmare three-game sequence drew to a close in an Edinburgh derby loss at Tynecastle at the end of August.
But, after missing first-team action since September 24, due to a loss of form and, latterly, an ankle injury in training, the Hibs left-back, who was yesterday named in the Scotland Under-21 squad, is determined to reignite his club form.
A crisis of confidence, says Booth, was the reason behind below-par performances and mistakes made during three straight defeats to Kilmarnock, St Mirren and Hearts as Hibs slumped to the foot of the SPL.
“I thought I started the season well,” said the 20-year-old. “Then, against Kilmarnock my confidence took a wee bad turn, then came the mistake in the St Mirren game [for the Buddies equaliser at Easter Road en-route to a 2-1 away win]. I thought I played okay but everyone remembers the mistake, then the Hearts game, where some people think I was at fault for the first goal.
“I had a couple of dodgy performances and thought the manager would leave me out, and that’s what he did. But I I’ve had a rest now and a break.”
Hibs fans will have each arrived at their own conclusions as to why Booth suffered during that spell. The player himself offers an explanation of his own as to where it all went wrong.
“It was more defensive issue than anything else,” he said. “Obviously I like to get forward but I had a few slack bits of defending and a couple of hard games defensively. Hopefully, that’ll be over now.
“I have to keep my concentration more, but I don’t think there have been massive problems – just a wee blip. I’m not going to start looking deep into my performances. At the same time, I want to improve, I’m always looking to do that.”
The Haddington youngster sustained damage to his ankle when a one-on-one training exercise at East Mains took a turn for the worse. Booth clattered into Lewis Horner with both racing for a ball at full speed and was diagnosed with bone bruising but, fortunately, no ligament damage.
With time for contemplation since then, Booth has used his exile from the first team to replenish his reserves of belief and determination.
“I had hardly played the last five games even before I got injured,” said the youngster, who has been at Hibs since the age of ten. “It gave me a bit of time to look back. I haven’t played for six weeks now, and I’m dying to get back. Obviously no-one wants to be injured, it gets a bit boring, but I’ve had time to think about things after I got dropped. Watching games from the stand helps you learn things, and it’s been a learning curve for me. Hopefully that’s the end of that for me.”
Having flitted between left-back and left midfield in recent appearances, Booth has made it clear where he feels his on-field future lies. As effective as he can be driving forward, he admits a preference for a deeper role in a Hibs side looking to surge up the SPL table.
“I think I’ve only started one game left midfield out of about 30 I’ve played for Hibs, so I think it’s definitely left-back for me. Although I like left midfield, people think that because I attack quite a lot I should play further forward, but I like to have space in front of me.
“On paper, we’ve got some really good players and a lot of experienced players, so we should be doing better – that’ll come. There’s still a long way to go, because Hibs should really be in the top six. We’ve definitely got the players to get there. The league’s that tight that if you put a run together you can shoot up the table.”
Booth participated in the bounce game at Rangers two days ago and admits slight relief at emerging from the action unscathed. Having only resumed training on Monday following a lay-off, his ankle withstood the pressure of semi-competitive action in the face of a strong Light Blues team.
“It was good to get a run-out,” he said. “It’s been coming up three weeks since I played. It’s also good to get training under my belt. I’d been out running with the physio [Callum Rea] so I knew I could run, but I wasn’t sure just how the ankle would react to more pressure.”
Short-term targets are Booth’s focus now, with a Hibs return his priority. A close second is retaining his precious spot in Billy Stark’s Scotland under-21 squad. Booth expressed delight in reaction to being named in the team, citing Stark’s faith in him despite a difficult past two months as uplifting.
“I’m just trying to get back in the team at Hibs, that’s all I’ve thought about,” he said. “I’ll just take it one game at a time and will hopefully be involved on Saturday.
“It’s a good achievement to keep getting in the Scotland squad, but obviously I have to be playing for Hibs so I’ll concentrate on that. I’ve got a long-term contract and want to just play as many games as I can.
“Having been injured, it’s good [to be picked for Scotland]. I haven’t been playing that much, but Billy Stark knows me. It’s good to know he has faith in me. He has always picked me on a regular basis since Under-19s. It’s hard to get into the Scotland team, and we had a lot of experienced defenders last time, so I had to make do with a place on the bench, but hopefully I can get into the team this time.”