Jordon FORSTER was pretty pleased with his week’s work. Hibs Under-20s had beaten league and cup double winning Celtic twice in the space of three days to secure third place in the table. Things couldn’t get much better as far as the 19-year-old defender was concerned.
Little did the boy who was brought up in Gorgie realise that his life was about to be turned upside down as Hibs boss Pat Fenlon handed him a surprise debut, throwing the rookie defender into the white-hot cauldron of an Edinburgh derby at Tynecastle.
Ninety minutes later, 6ft 2in Forster emerged from the away dressing-room with a grin as broad as the length of Princes Street, nursing memories of a match which, he insisted, will never be forgotten. And with good reason, Hibs coming from behind with spectacular strikes from Leigh Griffiths and teenage hitman Ross Caldwell to secure their first league win over their arch-rivals in four years as the club completed a season without defeat by the Jambos for the first time since 2001.
“Unbelievable” was the word the former Borouhgmuir pupil used time and again to describe his experience, “incredible” and “amazing” also peppering his vocabulary as he struggled to take it all in.
Although he knew captain James McPake and fellow defenders Tim Clancy and Ryan McGivern were struggling to overcome injuries as the fifth and final Edinburgh derby of the season loomed, Forster didn’t discover he’d be playing until Fenlon’s squad arrived at Tynecastle an hour-and-a-half before kick-off.
The youngster said: “I had a slight idea on the Saturday and I prepared for the game is if I would be playing, but it wasn’t until we got to Tynecastle and the manager sat us down, read out the team and gave us a wee talk that I knew for certain. He just told me to enjoy it. Obviously I was excited and then the nerves kicked in. I can’t really describe it.
“It wrapped up quite a week for me, a hectic week but a good one, three full 90 minutes in the space of just six days. We’d beaten Celtic twice in three days at under-20 level, the first time we’d done that in something like ten years. Then to go to Tynecastle, make my debut and win against Hearts made it an incredible week for me, something I will never forget.
“Beating Celtic twice to finish third in a league of 15 teams with such a young team over the year was incredible but the derby just topped everything off. It was an amazing, amazing week.”
Forster admitted going into such a match with a totally reshaped back four – only Paul Hanlon retaining his place from the side which had faced Kilmarnock seven days earlier – “wasn’t ideal,” particularly as he knew he’d be coming up against two big, powerful players in Hearts strikers John Sutton and Michael Ngoo.
But he admitted he enjoyed the experience, saying: “The likes of Alan Maybury, Paul and Lewis Stevenson talked me through the game. Sutton and Ngoo are good, experienced players; big, strong guys who like a physical battle. So I just tried not to get too tight, to keep them away from me a bit, to win the ball if I could and if not to keep them away from goal –that was the key to it.
“Changing virtually the entire back four going into such a big match wasn’t ideal, but I think the boys reacted very well. We were the better team from start to finish. They had spells in the game, but I think for the majority of it we dominated, had the better chances and I felt it was a fair result.”
Hibs, though, had to come from behind to secure their historic victory, Darren Barr having prodded home from close range on the stroke of half-time. Forster, however, insisted there was no sense of panic. He said: “It was a setback for us, but we went in, calmed down and went back out still believing we were the better team and to keep playing the way we had been, pressing the game high up the pitch, putting pressure on them and we got our rewards.”
While few would have been surprised to see Griffiths curl home a trademark free-kick for his 28th goal of the season, it was Forster’s team-mate from Hibs Under-20s, Caldwell, who stole the show with his last-gasp winner.
Forster said: “Ross has scored winners against Hearts many times at youth level, but what a goal it was. Ross has had a great couple of weeks himself, goals for the Under-20s including the winner in the first of last week’s two games against Celtic, scoring his first SPL goal against St Mirren and now Hearts. It’s been incredible for him.”
Forster, who spent the first half of the season on loan at East Fife, found his own patience rewarded, having watched as a succession of his young team-mates have pulled on a first-team shirt, most notably Alex Harris, Danny Handling and Caldwell.
He added: “As a centre-half it’s a bit harder for the manager to put you in, but he had faith in me.
“I was always just going to keep working hard and wait for my chance when it came. Hopefully I have taken it and done enough to stay in the team, I’d love to play again on Wednesday night against Kilmarnock.”
Although he spent ten years growing up in Gorgie, Forster’s early years in football were at Livingston and Celtic, revealing he made the move to Hibs believing, as David Wotherspoon did before him, that the Easter Road club’s highly envied youth system would offer him the best chance to progress.
If having Kevin Thomson in the starting line-up at Tynecastle acted as a reminder to Hibs fans as to their club’s commitment to home-grown talent, Forster revealed there’s plenty more waiting in the wings at present.
He said: “I didn’t think it was going to work out at Celtic so I asked to leave and since coming to Hibs I have become a much better player which is down to a lot of good people at the club. Hibs have always been renowned for bringing through young players, perhaps there’s not been as many go on to make such an impact in the game as those of Kevin’s era, but I think very highly of the batch coming through at the moment and I am sure the club does as well.”