For some players, being farmed out on loan can be a signal their time at a club is coming to an end, but Hibs kid Alex Harris believes his temporary move to Dundee is just what he needs to kick-start his Easter Road career.
The winger had found himself becoming a somewhat peripheral figure in recent months, confined largely to the bench, with just one start in a green-and white shirt to his name since the end of August.
But in a surprise deal which saw Dens Park forward Martin Boyle head in the opposite direction, Harris will spend the next few months on Tayside, where he believes he can not only help the Dark Blues overcome their current dip in form but lay the foundations which will see him return to Edinburgh next season ready to make himself an integral part of head coach Alan Stubbs’ plans.
Today, Harris admitted he himself had been rather taken aback at the strange twist the opening days of the January transfer window had held for him – not least the fact he’ll be playing football in the Premiership while those team-mates he’s left behind in the Capital continue their battle to take Hibs back to the top flight.
The 20-year-old said: “Usually when players are going out on loan they tend to be heading to a lower division, but I’m going up a league, which is something of a surprise. I first heard of Dundee’s interest last Tuesday when the manager mentioned it to me. He said he was happy for me to do it if I wanted to, but the decision was entirely up to me.
“I love it at Hibs and being a Hibs boy I want to play as often as I can for the team, but that wasn’t happening. I was desperate for games, so I spoke to Paul Hartley on the Wednesday and he was very positive, telling me he had great confidence in me. I also spoke to Kevin Thomson and James McPake, who are now with Dundee, and they were also very positive about the club – so it wasn’t too hard a decision to make.
“Dundee had enjoyed a good start to the season, but have dropped off a wee bit so I’m looking to play as much first team football as I can with them and, hopefully, help them pick up the results again.”
Although he’d started the season apparently firmly in Stubbs plans, Harris, like on-loan Everton winger Matty Kennedy, found game-time hard to come by after the head coach, faced with an indifferent start in terms of results, tinkered with his team by adopting a “diamond” formation in midfield which obviated the need for out-and-out wide men.
It was a move which paid handsome dividends for Stubbs with his side having now suffered just one defeat in their last 14 league matches – a record which, Harris admitted, left him with no room for complaint and led to Kennedy returning to Goodison Park.
Harris said: “The change in formation limited both Matty and myself in terms of game time, but it’s not about individuals but the team winning and when they’ve been getting results as they have over the past two or three months then there’s not a lot you can do.
“From a personal point of view, though, you want to play as much as you can and at my age it’s all about gaining experience and developing your game which, I think, you can’t really do if you are only getting a few minutes here and there.”
It’s an experience Harris has already gone through, last season proving to be something of a write-off after he broke his right ankle on the opening day only months after having had the spotlight turned on him following his sensational goal which sparked Hibs’ remarkable second-half fightback against Falkirk in the semi-final of the Scottish Cup after Pat Fenlon’s side had found themselves three down at the break.
He said: “The injury obviously didn’t help, but I feel as if I let myself down a bit in the second half of the season. I wasn’t really fully fit. I was disappointed in the way I was playing as I knew I wasn’t affecting games as I had when I broke through the previous season.”
The manner in which Hibs under Terry Butcher went into freefall in the second half of the season didn’t help either. Harris said: “As a young player it was hard to come into a team that was losing – very difficult to make an impact. There were a few of us – guys like Sam Stanton, Jordon Forster and Danny Handling – but while your confidence does suffer, I think we’re all mentally stronger for that experience.”
And while he may be playing elsewhere for the foreseeable future, Harris revealed it won’t be a case of out of sight, out of mind as far as Stubbs is concerned – the Hibs head coach having stated he still sees a big future at Easter Road for a player who has two-and-a-half years left on his contract.
He said: “The gaffer has been really positive. He’s an honest manager. He tells you as it is, and he doesn’t shy away from things. He told me that while there was this interest from Dundee, I was definitely part of his plans for next season, which was great to know. It’s now up to me to get playing regularly with Dundee to take this opportunity to get my career back on track.
“It’s going to be a move which will benefit me, hopefully benefit Dundee while I am there, and benefit Hibs when I come back at the end of the season.”
Harris got exactly what he was looking for when Hartley underlined his faith in him by handing him a start against Ross County on Sunday with the ink barely dry on his deal. And now he’s looking forward to facing Premiership opposition every week – his only disappointment being he’s ineligible to face Celtic in next month’s Scottish Cup clash at Dens Park after finding himself cup-tied having played just 11 minutes of Hibs’ win against Alloa Athletic,
He said: “The first thing I did was look at Dundee’s fixtures and the Celtic cup game stood out until I realised I won’t be allowed to play. But there’s plenty of big games to come – a lot to look forward to. Paul Hartley showed a lot of faith in me by throwing me in right away and hopefully I can continue to persuade him to keep picking me.”