Hibs kid Jason Cummings is living a double life, a mixed-up, muddled-up world in which he battles for a title one day and then scraps to prevent the Easter Road outfit being dragged closer to the dreaded play-off spot the next.
While the 18-year-old has been banging in the goals for fun as Hibs head the Scottish Premiership Under-20 League, he has yet to find the net for Terry Butcher’s side in their desperate fight to end a slump in which they have lost their last five matches, a miserable run which has extended an already woeful record to just one win in 14 league matches.
Today, though, the youngster insisted he is refusing to let the highs and lows mess with his head, claiming he is more interested in chasing down a hat-trick in tonight’s game away to Dunfermline (kick-off 6pm) as Hibs bid to maintain their four-point lead over Celtic at the top of the Under-20 table than dwelling on a goal drought which has helped make Hibs the lowest-scoring side in the top flight of Scottish football.
Cummings is anxious not to be seen to be making light of Hibs’ predicament, fully appreciating the threat the Capital club is under, the defeat by St Mirren now meaning there are only three points between them and 11th-placed Ross County. But at the same time, he is simply enjoying playing first-team football, a dream which appeared to have been shattered when, having suffered a serious knee injury which required three operations, he was released by Hearts.
A return to boys’ football with Hutchison Vale and a barrowload of goals last season re-ignited the interest of senior clubs, but Hibs won the race for his signature, a move which sparked an unthinkable turnaround in his fortunes, his expectation of playing purely for the club’s East of Scotland and Under-20 sides exceeded by a lightning-quick promotion to the first-team squad.
Twelve Premiership appearances – six as a substitute – before the end of his first season did not even figure in Cummings’ wildest dreams, but he is determined to play any part he can in helping fire up a Hibs attack which has been branded on occasion by Butcher as “powder puff.”
Along with 20-year-old Sam Stanton and fellow second-half substitute in Paisley, 19-year-old Duncan Watmore, Cummings was one of the few players exonerated by Butcher following the 2-0 defeat, the fifth game in succession Hibs had gone down by a two-goal margin. But, he admitted, he would gladly swap all the praise in the world for his first top-flight goal.
He said: “From where I was this time last year to just now is unbelievable. I know we are in a sticky situation, but I’ve loved every minute of my time with Hibs and I am sure with the players and coaching staff we have we’ll come through it and out the other side.
“To me the key is to remain as positive as possible. We have to believe in each other. I’m not saying it’s not a hard time, we know we’ve got to be better, that we have to stand up and show it by picking up the points we need.”
Cummings admitted he has found it “strange” flitting between youth coach James McDonaugh’s teams and Butcher’s squad, not only with the obvious difference in standards but his “glut or famine” experience in front of goal.
He said: “It’s a bit odd. With the Under-20s we’re in the race for the title, I’m playing on a Tuesday and scoring a minimum goal a game, but I’m still waiting to break my duck for the first team. Obviously it’s much harder in the Premiership, but I feel it is coming. Scoring goals is what I do. If I don’t get a goal I always feel I haven’t played well, regardless of how the game has gone.
“But the gaffer and Maurice Malpas believe in the young kids, which is great, and I honestly don’t feel under pressure, but it’s a case of giving everything I have got every time I get the chance to play. I’m desperate to score and I am confident a goal will come.”
Given it is 388 minutes since Watmore scored Hibs’ last goal – a consolation strike in a 3-1 defeat away to Partick Thistle – Butcher will not much care where the next one comes from as long as he doesn’t have too much longer to wait with, ideally, one of his players getting the opening goal in Sunday’s derby with Hearts.
Losing the first goal has proved to be Hibs’ Achilles heel. Their only win since beating Hearts on their last visit to Easter Road on January 2 came when they got their noses in front against Ross County and Cummings agreed it would give everyone a massive lift if they could do so again this weekend.
He said: “Four successive games without a goal isn’t a great stat. We didn’t give ourselves a chance against St Mirren at the weekend by losing the first goal with only seconds on the clock. Doing that will always leave you with a mountain to climb and it proved beyond us.
“It was bitterly disappointing for us all, not least the hundreds of fans who came through to support us. We didn’t give them anything to cheer about and the chance to enjoy their weekend. But we just feel if we could get the first goal it would lift everything.”
Having ended the last derby being taunted “You’re going down with the Jambos” by Hearts supporters already resigned to their fate, Cummings is well aware the Gorgie support will turn up at Easter Road in numbers hoping to see further trouble heaped on their arch rivals.
But, he insisted, Butcher’s players will be going all out to ensure a happier ending this time round. He said: “These are the biggest games of the season, the result every fan cares about more than any other. The Hearts fans will no doubt be coming to enjoy seeing us in a bit of bother but we want to cheer our fans up and if we win it will go a long way to keeping us away from that play-off place.”