Terry Butcher today revealed Hibs are close to clinching a new deal for play-off hero Jason Cummings as he hailed the teenager’s “meteoric” rise to stardom.
The Easter Road boss admitted he took a gamble by pitching a youngster who, while a prolific scorer for the club’s Under-20 side, had not found the net for the first team, into the crucial first leg of Hibs’ Scottish Premiership play-off against Hamilton Accies with their top-flight status on the line.
But his hunch paid off big time as the 18-year-old claimed two spectacular goals to all but ensure Premiership survival, although Butcher warned his players still have to “finish the job off” in Sunday’s return match at Easter Road.
Now Cummings is set to be rewarded with an extended contract to complete what Butcher described as a “fairytale” for a youth who, this time last year, was playing for Hutchison Vale and working as a gardener, having been axed by his boyhood favourites Hearts following a serious knee injury.
However, Butcher insisted there was no doubting Cummings’ commitment to Hibs, disclosing the youngster had joined the club just last August for half the money offered by Hearts when the chase was on for his signature following a goal-laden season with “Hutchie”.
He said: “Jason had a cruciate knee ligament operation although you could never tell. I think he has been so determined to take the second chance which coming to Hibs has given him. It’s amazing how quickly his confidence has come back. He’s had a terrific season, he’s played regularly for the first team and been a prolific scorer for the Under-20s.
“He came here for half the money Hearts offered him, so that dispels any thoughts about his commitment to Hibs.”
Although he felt Cummings “had a chance” when he first clapped eyes on him, Butcher admitted even he has been taken aback by the youngster’s progress. He said: “It’s been fairytale in many ways, but it’s something he has deserved as he is not afraid of hard work.
“It’s been a meteoric rise when you think about it. He’s still got another year on his contract to run but at this moment we are in negotiations for a new one and we hope to get him tied up soon.”
Butcher, however, revealed he had to think long and hard about playing the rookie in such a high-stakes match, the idea germinating as he watched Cummings notch a hat-trick in a “bounce” match against his Under-20 team-mates.
He said: “It was sticking at the back of my mind that he hadn’t got a goal for the first team although I knew what he could do. He’s been playing well and had looked sharp in training and we were needing goals.
“I looked at both Hamilton and Falkirk, both with strong, experienced back fours and felt we needed a bit of pace, someone with a bit of zip.”
If Cummings’ first goal was spectacular, a dipping strike which zipped over the head of Accies’ keeper Kevin Cuthbert, his second was something special, a delicate “dink” over not only the goalkeeper but defenders Grant Gillespie and Martin Canning.
Butcher said: “It was an assured strike. The instinct might have been to try to hit it under the goalkeeper but he displayed the assurance of a veteran.”
With the pressure having been cranked up on his players Butcher was full of praise for their character and the backing they’d received from 2700 travelling supporters.
He said: “It was gritty rather than pretty but the boys showed great spirit, every one of them fighting for the cause. The fans have had an awful season but they’ve stuck by the team and gave us fantastic support. It was nice to be able to give them something to cheer about and hopefully they’ll come along again on Sunday to see us finish the job off.”
Meanwhile, Hibs midfielder Owain Tudur Jones has been named in the Welsh squad for their friendly against Holland in Amsterdam on June 4.