HIS most memorable milestone in the green and white of Hibs came 99 games ago with a goal on his first-team debut, and David Wotherspoon hopes to write another upbeat chapter in his fledgling career with a derby victory over Hearts in his 100th appearance on Monday.
With few further happy memories to recall from his two-and-a-half seasons in the Hibs first team, Wotherspoon aims to mark a ton of games with a first sweet taste of derby victory – a little more than a week after fellow Scotland under-21 internationalist Paul Hanlon, pictured below, clocked up a similar “century” at Easter Road.
After striking a goal 39 minutes into his first start for Hibs in a 2-1 win over St Mirren in August 2009, the midfielder-cum-defender is on a mission to ensure that a win over the Jambos can fuel further positive reading in his career scrapbook.
“To be only 21 and have 100 appearances under our belts is quite an achievement. Obviously, Paul would have been delighted when he made that appearance and on Monday hopefully I can make it something special,” said Wotherspoon.
“I still remember the milestones of my career, but there aren’t too many good ones. I suppose I just feel that I’ve tried to earn my place in the Hibs team and prove to everyone that I can play for the badge. I want to try and keep my performances up and stay in the team, try to get the team winning again and back on good form.”
As part of a derby matchday squad on eight occasions, Wotherspoon has never tasted a Hibs victory over Hearts, an outcome that last occurred in May 2009, three months prior to his debut for the club. He made his derby debut in November that same year in a 0-0 draw at Tynecastle, and went on to start all four derbies that season. He came off the bench for the three all- Edinburgh clashes last season, and was an unused substitute in the 2-0 defeat in Gorgie earlier this term.
While he has gained only frustration from recent results – and in particular Stephen Elliott’s late equaliser in the last meeting at Easter Road, in April – Wotherspoon insists he will, as usual, relishes the meeting with Hearts on Monday lunchtime.
“The past few games I’ve not started and have sat on the bench a few times. Apart from that, I feel I haven’t done too badly,” he said. “I’ve tried to be creative and be assured on the ball and relax. Those games, you know what the crowd are like and all the players are full of adrenaline. You lose yourself in the game and try to relax and get on the ball and play the football you normally do. I’m looking forward to it, and hopefully I can get my start.
“I suppose people look at us as underdogs. We have the home support which is a real big thing in a derby, it’s a real lift for us. The last derby at home we were close to winning and should have held on, but it was just another set piece that we seem to keep conceding.” Confidence and good form has remained elusive for a Hibs team that has spent the season consigned to the nether regions of the table. The solution to the problem is to be brave, says Wotherspoon, for himself and his team-mates to perform the simple tasks well and not fear the more difficult manoeuvres, such as putting a foot right through the ball when shooting at goal or attempting that defence-splitting pass.
From small successes, mighty victories grow – to paraphrase a well-known saying – and with a miserable 2011 behind them, Hibs will look to carry that sentiment into Monday’s derby to spark a surge up the table and an upbeat start to 2012.
“We’re going to really be positive,” says Wotherspoon. “We tried to do that against Inverness and thought ‘We have nothing to lose’. We’ll do the same again and try to play against Hearts and really match them. I think we’ve got the beating of them. Every match recently has been [a case of there being] nothing to lose.
“We’re down there and need to get back up [the table].
“It’s not an easy thing but hopefully we can move on and get the confidence to get three points against Hearts because I know the fans will be right behind us. We know how much it means to them and to ourselves. We are down there [near the bottom of the SPL] and we know that we really need to fight everything.”
Hearts are not the only opposition Wotherspoon must be prepared to face on Monday lunchtime: there is a mental obstacle with which he must also contend.
Prior to Pat Fenlon’s arrival as manager, assistant boss Billy Brown cited the player’s role as his own harshest critic as a debilitating factor in his on-field performance. By his nature, a perfectionist such as Wotherspoon is constantly susceptible to mental torture, but trying not to beat himself up when things go wrong, especially in the pressure-filled atmosphere of a Hibs-Hearts match, is a work in progress for the Perth-born Hibs man. “A few managers have noticed that,” he says. “I always want to improve. If I do a couple of things wrong, it really gets to me because I just want everything to be perfect.
“I really try to do my best but sometimes it can get to me and people notice it with my body language, which I try to cut out. The first couple of minutes [after a mistake] I just go round, but then I lift myself up again. I need to cut that out of my game and really be positive, just try to improve myself every time.
“Sometimes visions come into your head – you need to do this and that better. The old manager, John Hughes, used to tell us to really focus 24 hours before a game on what we would do in a game and I think it helps a little bit. But, visually is nothing when you’re in a game – you need to concentrate mentally and I think that’s what we sometimes lack, 90 minutes of concentration and belief.”