Hibs star Paul Heffernan believes Terry Butcher’s more direct style of play will be rewarded with goals – and the Easter Road boss backed him to be the man to get them.
Heffernan struck three times in five starts following his surprise arrival from Kilmarnock, but suffered as Hibs endured a goals drought before being sidelined for five weeks having damaged a thigh muscle just five minutes into Butcher’s first match in charge, coincidentally against today’s opponents St Mirren.
But he’s started the Edinburgh club’s last two matches and, although he’s yet to find the net again, Butcher is convinced it won’t be long before the much-travelled Dubliner is again wreaking havoc in opposition penalty areas.
And Heffernan himself is as certain as his manager, adamant the chances being created by Butcher’s demands that his players not only get the ball forward as quickly as possible but fire it into the danger zone as often as they can, will quickly see Hibs’ paltry return of just 19 goals in 22 Scottish Premiership matches rapidly improve.
He said: “Just before I got back fit they were looking at the stats and saying the amount of crosses we were getting into the box was the most we’d done for a long time. If you put the ball in the box you’re going to get chances. The way the team is playing at the minute we are creating chances, so it’s up to us to stick them into the net.
“There was more of a possession game under the last manager. As I said, the quicker you get into the final third, that will suit the strikers more.”
Heffernan admitted to suffering a sense of frustration as he was nursed back to full fitness – although Butcher feels the 32-year-old has yet to gain full match sharpness – but now he’s hoping to impress.
He said: “Unfortunately, I lasted about five minutes in his first match and was out for about five weeks. It was frustrating, because the new manager had just come in, and you want to try to impress.
“When you come back from injury you are playing catch-up a little bit with your fitness. But I am fully fit now, feeling strong, and hopefully I can get myself in the team and keep myself there.”
Heffernan has returned to find Hibs employing a totally different style to that favoured by Pat Fenlon and, he believes, it will suit him perfectly. He said: “He came in and wanted the team to get the ball forward a lot quicker than we had done under the last manager.
“He made a couple of changes and you want to try and fit in and show him you can do that sort of job. I’ve always said when you’re a striker you’re paid to score goals and you are judged on how many goals you score. If you are injured or not in the team, you can’t score the goals.
“Hopefully now I’m fit I can score some goals and show the manager I can stay in the team.”
If Heffernan’s return hasn’t, as yet, brought him further goals, Butcher firmly believes it won’t be long before his name is back on the scoresheet. The Hibs boss said: “Paul is working his way back to full fitness and in the last two games you could see he’s not quite there in terms of sharpness and the way he can play.
“But he has certainly got the experience and, if we get the ball in the box for him, he will invariably score.
“He is a player who knows what to do, where to run, how to hold the ball up. He can play a big part in what we want to achieve this season. We have good options up front and letting Ross Caldwell go on loan to Alloa was a reflection that we have Paul Heffernan getting back to full fitness.
“We have good options, but we’d like more and we are working on getting more in. If we can do that then great, albeit Danny Handling and Jason Cummings have done well.”
If Butcher and Heffernan may disagree, ever so slightly, as to the striker’s match sharpness, then they are in complete agreement that the return of Alex Harris will bring an added potency to the side, the teenager having made a brief appearance as a substitute against Aberdeen last weekend after five months out with a broken ankle.
Harris, when fully fit, will provide pace on either flank, although Butcher believes the youngster can also be a threat playing through the centre while insisting wherever he plays he’ll offer his team-mates goal-scoring opportunities.
Heffernan hasn’t seen much of his young team-mate, but he likes what little he has seen.
He said: “Alex is an exciting player. I didn’t see much of him before he got injured because I wasn’t here. But I’ve seen him in training in the last couple of weeks and he’s a very exciting player.
He likes to get upfield and get crosses into the box, so hopefully he can get himself fit and into the team as well.”