It will be Christmas with a difference for Hibs kid Jordon Forster as he prepares to forego the family festivities and ready himself for a Boxing Day match for the first time.
Even the prospect of a seven-hour haul to Dingwall and back will not dampen his spirits, Terry Butcher’s players having opted to make the long journey up the A9 on the day of the match rather than tear themselves away from their families to travel on the afternoon of Christmas Day itself.
It all makes for a long, exhausting day, but today the young defender insisted he and his team-mates are determined to enjoy the journey home having taken all three points from Ross County, their confidence boosted by the fact they enjoyed their first win against the Staggies on their last visit to the Highlands.
The memory of that victory, thanks to a Danny Handling strike, is still very fresh in the memory having come less than a month ago, a win which propelled Hibs into the fifth round of the Scottish Cup and, coincidentally, gave Butcher himself his first triumph in Dingwall.
The game, of course, is the second of four over the festive period, a clutch of matches which Butcher described as “winnable,” and one which, with the first of those fixtures against St Johnstone having ended in a draw, perhaps takes on greater signficance for Forster and his team-mates who know they will be up against a side desperate to end a run of eight matches without a win as they have slid into the play-off spot.
However, County’s recent record is of no concern to Forster, the 20-year-old saying: “It’s always said a team on a bad run is only one result, one performance away from getting back on track. They were beaten again at the weekend, but so what?
“They are going through a rough patch, but most teams in this league will have that at some point or another. Thursday is another game and one we are looking at from our own perspective, not theirs.
“It’s all about how we play, how we prepare ourselves and we’ll be making sure we go into the game with a positive attitude, and are prepared to work hard throughout the 90 minutes. We had our first win against them last time we were up there so, of course, we would like to repeat that with three points rather than a cup place at stake this time.
“We won, kept a clean sheet and beat them for the first time so everything is positive, we are looking forward to it and will be trying for a similar result.”
Last time round Hibs travelled the day before the game, staying in a hotel overnight, but Forster insisted making the journey on the day of the game should make no difference. He said: “Some of the guys have children and they want to spend Christmas with them, so we’ve decided to go up on Thursday rather than travel tomorrow afternoon to let them be with their families.
“I don’t think it makes too much difference. Three-and-a-half hours on a bus is nothing. It’s going to be a new experience for me as it’s the first time I’ll have been involved in a Boxing Day match. You know if you want to be a football player you have to make sacrifices so I don’t see it as a negative.
“I actually find Christmas Day a bit boring after you’ve handed out your presents, opened your own and had dinner. It will be good to get out of the house and go training with the boys tomorrow.”
Although Butcher’s players were disappointed to open their festive campaign with a no-scoring draw against a St Johnstone side forced to play with only ten men for almost an hour after former Hibs star Paddy Cregg was sent off just 34 seconds after stepping off the bench, Forster insisted the mood was still very much upbeat. He said: “Obviously we all wanted the three points. That’s what we are after every time we play. But there were positives to take from the match. It was another clean sheet, another game we haven’t lost while we created chance after chance and should probably have had a penalty right at the end.”
It was also another match in which Forster found himself playing at right-back having made the breakthrough to the first team as a central defender, a position he’d occupied until the experienced Michael Nelson returned from a fractured cheekbone – albeit still wearing a protective mask – to partner Paul Hanlon.
Forster, though, has no complaints, just happy enough to have retained his place in Butcher’s team. He said: “I probably see myself more as a centre-half, but if I am playing I can’t grumble. Right-back, centre-half, wherever, I am happy just to be pulling on a green and white shirt. If the manager wants me to play right-back then I will work as hard as I can to learn that position, to make myself the best right-back I can be.”
Although Hibs have struggled for victories – and goals – in recent weeks, Forster admitted he has been delighted not only to hold down a starting place himself but to see Butcher give other youngsters their chance, 18-year-old hitman Jason Cummings having been given the nod ahead of Danny Handling at the weekend after scoring 30 goals for the club’s Under-20 and East of Scotland teams.
He said: “Jason has been banging in the goals so he deserved the opportunity. But there’s a lot of young boys being given the opportunity. Danny and I have been playing, Sam Stanton was on the bench at the weekend and Alex Harris is coming back from injury, so it looks as if we are all going to be given a chance. Then it is up to us to do our best and hopefully repay the manager’s faith in us.”