WHEN Terry Butcher admits: “I wouldn’t like to play against him,” it’s worth sitting up and taking notice. And the Hibs manager’s words are a ringing endorsement of teenage Easter Road striker Jason Cummings.
As a centre half, Butcher notched up 77 matches for England and hundreds more with Ipswich Town and Rangers and, as such, is perfectly placed not only to judge a young forward’s talents, but his potential.
In that regard he believes the Capital club have unearthed a gem in 19-year-old Cummings, who only joined the club’s youth academy four months ago but was today part of Butcher’s squad in Dingwall preparing to face Ross County in the Scottish Cup.
Cummings, 19, took his goals tally for Hibs Under-20 and East of Scotland League sides to 24 in all competitions in midweek with a hat-trick against Hamilton, earning himself a place on the team coach which headed up the A9 last night with former England and Rangers skipper Butcher firmly of the view the youngster, who spent two years out of football with a serious knee injury, has taken but the first step.
Likening the Edinburgh-born kid to Johnny Russell and David Goodwillie in terms of build, Butcher believes that what he may lack in terms of inches, he more than makes up for with his hunger and desire plus, of course, an eye for goal.
The Hibs boss said: “You look at him and think ‘Yeah, he has a chance’ because he just shows great attiutude and enthusiasm for the game. I like what I have seen and if I like what I have seen then I put them into the squad. I think it is exciting when you have someone with that attitude who has come late into the game and if he catches your eye at that age he has a chance. Sometimes when you have such a big squad, youngsters can be pushed out, but I do not like that, I like to bring them in to the squad so they can see the standard they have to get to and maintain.”
Although Cummings’ goals have all come at a lower standard than he’ll encounter in the Scottish Premiership, Butcher argued his achievements to date shouldn’t be belittled, claiming to have scored 24 by this stage of the season was “very impressive”, but also insisting the youngster has attributes other than a seemingly natural goal-scoring ability which will stand him in good stead.
He said: “Jason reminds me of Billy McKay [top scorer at Butcher’s former club Inverness Caley] as well, that little never-say-die spirit. He just goes and closes people down, a little wasp up front. I haven’t really had many big strikers in my teams, I’ve always relied on movement, passing and hunger from them. If they are small they make up for a lack of height in many other aspects. If you are up against some big defenders, which you have in the Premiership, you need to have pace around them to try to unsettle them.
“If you can’t beat them in physique, strength and height then you are loking to beat then through pace and sharpness, awareness and tenacity. Jason shows all those attributes.
“His goals tally is very impressive, but I also like his work-rate, the way he brings other people into the game, the length he gives the team in running into channels, his running off the ball and putting defenders under pressure.
“As a centre half you like to play against big strikers so you can have a good physical battle, but players like Jason give you problems that can embarrass and hurt you. He is certainly someone I wouldn’t have liked to have played against. He can wrong foot you, he manipulates the ball well, keeps hold of it well and with a low centre of gravity, he makes if difficult for big defenders to dominate him.”
Although he is clearly excited at the potential of Cummings – “who knows what he can achieve” – Butcher is also wary of heaping too much praise on the youngster but believes the fact he’s been given a second chance to make the grade will help keep his head out of the clouds.
He said: “Jason is a good boy, clean cut, very fresh and very smart. He has already done very well in a short space of time. He is the sort that will keep his feet on the ground and we will make sure of that. But who knows how good he can be?
“I came into the the game at 17 in a similar way. I was never brought up at a football club, I never went through academies and initiatives or anything like that. I played junior and boys’ football and it never did me any harm.
“If you are gong to be given a chance like he has here, whether it is a first, second or third chance, it’s up to you to take it.”