James Keatings revelling in new role behind Hibs front two

James Keatings had chances against Dundee United and even tried a shot from almost the halfway line in an effort to score
James Keatings had chances against Dundee United and even tried a shot from almost the halfway line in an effort to score
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James Keatings insists he’s happy to take a step back in order to move forward at Hibs.

The former Hearts and Hamilton Accies player has spent most of his senior career as an out-and-out striker, sniffing out chances in the penalty area. However, in light of the impressive form of Hibs’ established front two of Jason Cummings and Dominique Malonga during the team’s run of 11 wins in 12 matches, head coach Alan Stubbs has instead used Keatings at the attacking point of a midfield diamond, just behind the forwards.

The 23-year-old is yet to score in his new position, but he certainly looked in his element in the 3-0 League Cup victory at home to Dundee United on Wednesday as he found himself at the heart of most of Hibs’ attacks, creating openings for team-mates and unleashing his own fair share of attempts at the overworked Michal Szromnik’s goal. Keatings explained that the No.10 position is not totally new to him and that watching the likes of Kris Commons at former club Celtic, and Scott Allan at Hibs last season has given him an idea of how best to play the role.

“In the last few games I have been playing in a different role in behind but I am enjoying it,” he said. “The manager has enough confidence in me to change the position I am playing in. I am getting chances and I’m creating chances too.

“I played centre midfield when I was at Celtic when I was younger but playing [in the No.10] is a little different. It’s really good, I am enjoying it and learning. I saw Scotty Allan in that position last season and he was a joy to watch at times. And I would watch Kris Commons when I was at Celtic.

“You are always watching and learning and trying to take things like that into your own game. What struck me was just the space they would create for themselves and the chances they created for other people.

“Kris has shown he can get goals from there as well, he has double figures every single season from that position, so it’s a good position to play in. The manager has watched me drop into that position in training and tried me out there for the last three games, so hopefully I can deliver for him from there.”

Keatings was clearly desperate to net against United and at one stage in the second half he was seen shooting from close to the centre circle in an effort to beat the on-song Szromnik.

“As a striker you live for goals and that’s what I want to get,” he said. “On another night I would have had one or two but their keeper had an absolute ‘worldie’. He tipped two of mine round the post and when he saved the last one I hit, I just felt: ‘I’m not going to score tonight!’.”

Nonetheless, Keatings is buoyed by the fact he is part of a rampant Hibs team who have closed to within five points of Championship leaders Rangers and booked a place in the League Cup semi-final during a run of 11 wins and a draw from their last 12 competitive games. Keatings was part of a Hearts team that remained unbeaten in the Championship until January last season and he senses a similar winning mentality developing at Hibs.

“It’s definitely similar,” he said. “The start to the season was different because Hearts got off to a flyer and carried it all the way through. But we are on a great run here and our confidence is high.

“We have a strong mentality and we are all pushing each other, so yeah, there are similarities.”

The previous time Hibs beat Premiership opposition in a midweek League Cup tie, they slipped up against St Mirren the following Saturday. Ian Murray’s team remain the only team to have avoided defeat against Hibs since August after they drew 1-1 at Easter Road in September three days after Alan Stubbs’ team had defeated then Premiership leaders Aberdeen 2-0. Keatings is wary of the possibility of being brought back to earth in similar fashion today after the hype and euphoria that has accompanied the last two matches in particular.

“We’re going to have to be consistent,” he said. “Obviously we showed on Sunday against Rangers how good a team we are and we had huge confidence coming from that. Then going into a game like Wednesday and winning comfortably gives the team huge belief.

“But it’s about keeping our feet on the ground now and taking each game one at a time. It’s going to be a hard game at St Mirren but we’ll see if we can get another win.

“The last time they were at Easter Road it was a draw, they are a good outfit. It’s just up to us to go there and be strong. There may be changes to the team the manager picks depending on fitness, but hopefully we can go there and get the win and finish a very good week.”