He has, arguably, the toughest task in Scottish football, but today Hibs’ latest signing James Collins insisted he isn’t fazed in the slightest at the thought of following in the footsteps of 28-goal Leigh Griffiths.
Rather than worry about Griffiths’ exploits, the 22-year-old intends to focus purely on his own ability in front of goal. And when you sit down to analyse his record thus far it is, in fact, not too shabby at all.
Eighteen goals scored mostly from the substitutes’ bench of Swindon Town last season persuaded Easter Road boss Pat Fenlon to part with, if reports are correct, the thick end of £200,000 to capture Collins’ signature, the arrival of the 6ft 2in hitman the most Hibs have forked out for a player since the arrival of the towering figure of Rob Jones almost ten years ago and a sum unmatched by any Scottish club this summer outwith champions Celtic.
Dig deeper, though, and Coventry-born Collins has demonstrated, more than once, a well-timed nose for goal. Take, for instance, stunning Arsenal at the Emirates as he opened the scoring for League Two outfit Shrewsbury Town in the English League Cup a couple of seasons ago. Or, his hat-trick as Swindon knocked Premier League Stoke City out of the same competition a year later.
A feat followed only a few months later as he stepped off the bench to notch four in less than half-an-hour as Swindon thumped Portsmouth on New Year’s Day of 2012, something he still describes as “a surreal experience”.
Even so, Collins is the first to admit he has some act to follow after Wolves, unsurprisingly, brought what, in effect, was a two-year loan deal for Griffiths to an end as they recalled him to Molineux for the final 12 months of his contract.
Collins freely admits that comparisons are inevitable, but, in his estimation, they are unwarranted.
In an exclusive interview with the Evening News, he said: “Leigh did really well last year, but I want to score as many goals as I can myself.
“I’m not going to put any pressure on myself, I don’t know what Leigh was like as a person or a player. All I can do is concentrate on looking after myself and hopefully I can do well. I don’t see comparing me to Leigh as a burden on my shoulders – that’s football. Fans look on players to better what they had. I’m excited by the challenge and hopefully I will settle in quickly.”
Collins enjoyed memorable moments south of the border, admitting there are a few stories about Paolo di Canio, his controversial former boss, but the striker is looking forward to making more happy memories having signed a three-year deal with Hibs, reasoning that although he’s arrived in Scotland – for the first time in his life – as something of an unknown, that could also work to his advantage.
He said: “Coming off the bench to score four against Portsmouth was quite surreal, but it was a great feeling. It was one of those days when everything goes right for you – it doesn’t happen often so you enjoy them when they come along. Stoke was another great day for me, but, more to the point, knocking them out of the cup was great for the club.
“Again, scoring against Arsenal was a memorable moment. I seem to have done well against some big clubs in England, but hopefully I can do the same up here. I’m really looking forward to Sunday and Motherwell. Like every team I play against, at least the first time round, it will be new to me. I won’t know what to expect because I won’t have played against them before, but, on the other side of the coin, they won’t know me so hopefully I can give them a few surprises.”
Collins admitted he’d arrived in Edinburgh at a time when Hibs fans were struggling to come to terms with that 7-0 hammering by Malmo in the Europa League, the Swedes progressing to tonight’s third qualifying round against Swansea City with a 9-0 aggregate score against Fenlon’s side, but, he insisted, that while that pain will take some time to subside, the focus is entirely on Sunday and getting the domestic season up and running.
He said: “Of course the fans are going to be down and disappointed, but we cannot allow what happened to cloud our season. There’s no point dwelling in the past – the quicker that gets out of the lads minds the better. We’ve had a few days good training, the boys want to forget about Malmo, who were a very good side, and now it’s a case of bring on Sunday.”
Collins got his first feel for the Easter Road pitch as he played half-an-hour of a friendly against a Newcastle United XI earlier in the week and, he claimed, he detected, a vibrancy about his new team-mates as they won 4-0. He said: “I thought we looked sharp and up for it, so hopefully we can take that in to Sunday. It was good to get a feel for the place, I enjoyed my time on the park.”
As commonly happens with newly-signed players, Collins has spent some lonely hours in a city hotel but he’s delighted with the welcome he’s received from his new team-mates while the revelation Fenlon has been on his trail for more than a year has also been a pleasant surprise.
He said: “Living in a hotel has to be done as I have nowhere to live at the minute, although I’m hoping to get settled soon. The boys and everyone else have been great at helping me feel at home. I played against Tom Taiwo when he was a younger player at Chelsea and Ryan McGivern at Manchester City, but I can’t say I know them.”
Collins revealed he had interest in England, both from Championship and League One clubs, but he had no hesitation in putting pen to paper at Easter Road. “There were a couple of things, but nothing concrete and I’ve always thought the best offer is the one on the table. I was pleasantly surprised to see what was on offer in terms of training facilities and the ground.
“The manager told me his plans and what he expected of me. That will remain between us, but I was happy with that and hopefully I can repay him for showing a bit of faith in me. Three years is quite a long contract, but it’s a bit of stability for me. Hopefully I can settle in quickly and who knows, it could be a bit longer than three years.”