Towards the end of last year, Jordon Forster was preparing to seek a loan move away from Hibs after growing frustrated at his lack of game time. The big defender is in no mood to go down the same route this time round, though.
One start in the Irn-Bru Cup plus four substitute outings totalling around 20 minutes from his team’s opening ten matches in all competitions wasn’t what the 22-year-old had in mind when he signed up for another two years at the Easter Road club after being won over by Neil Lennon following his appointment as manager in June. However, Forster is philosophical regarding his current situation and remains upbeat about his prospects of more prominent involvement as the season progresses.
Unlike last year, when he sensed he was well out of the picture under Alan Stubbs, the centre-back has been detecting positive vibes from Lennon. In addition, having spent five months on loan at Plymouth Argyle, he now has a better appreciation of how good he has got it at Easter Road, even if he seemingly remains behind the highly-regarded and more-established trio of Paul Hanlon, Liam Fontaine and Darren McGregor in the battle for a centre-back berth.
“It’s always a bit frustrating when you’re not playing but I’ve been unfortunate that I’m at the club at a time when we’ve got such good centre-backs,” Forster said in an interview with the Evening News. “The standard of defenders we’ve got here, you’d struggle to find at any club in Scotland apart from maybe Celtic.
“Paul, Daz and Fonts are late 20s, early 30s and they’ve got a lot of experience. Paul’s a legend here, Fonts has played in the English Championship and Daz has been with Rangers so they’re all good players.
“I want to play every week but I’m fully aware there are good players ahead of me and I take that into consideration. The manager’s been honest with me, and I don’t think I’m too far away. I just need to bide my time, keep working hard, and when I get opportunities, like I did on Sunday, make sure I take them.”
Sunday’s game, a 3-0 win away to Highland League side Turriff United in the Irn-Bru Cup, represented Forster’s first start for Hibs since the 6-2 defeat by Rangers in the first round of the same competition in July last year. Although he has been kept on the sidelines for most of the Championship campaign thus far, he has no regrets about pledging his future to the club he first joined as a 16-year-old.
“I definitely feel I made the right decision to stay here,” he said. “Granted, I’m not playing regularly but I come on now and again and I played in Sunday’s game. The manager speaks to me most days and tells me I’m close to the team. You know yourself when your close, but with respect to Alan Stubbs, who I think is a great manager, I never really felt like I was that close to it last season. The new gaffer’s come in and given me an extra bit of life.”
Forster’s experiences at Plymouth, where he made 13 appearances – eight from the start – but failed to fully settle, have helped him maintain a positive outlook with regard to his present situation. “If you grow up in a wealthy family and then go away to live with a less wealthy family, you would notice,” he said. “It’s similar here. When you’ve come through the ranks at a club, you can maybe take it for granted. I’m honest enough to admit I probably did that before I went to Plymouth.
“But as soon as I went down there, I wanted to come home. I missed my family, I missed the club, I missed everyone. It was a good thing to get away at such an early age and experience somewhere else because it made me appreciate what I’ve got at Hibs. It was an eye-opener. No disrespect to Plymouth or any club in League Two or League One in England, but you’d struggle to find a club as big and as well set up as Hibs.
“When the chance came in the summer to sign the contract, there was no hesitation in my mind that I wanted to get it done and work under the new manager. When you look at the stadium, the facilities, the manager, the backroom staff, the calibre of player and the ambition we’re showing in the transfer market, the club is going in the right direction. Albeit I’m not playing every week, it’s something I want to be part of.”
Forster, who turns 23 later this month, is a naturally confident and ambitious character. After swiftly establishing himself as a regular in the Hibs team following his breakthrough under Pat Fenlon as a 19-year-old, the last two years, heavily disrupted by injury, have been difficult for the Edinburgh boy. However, having had time to take stock of his situation, he feels comforted by the belief that he is well positioned to develop into a top-class centre-back over the course of time.
“I sometimes need to remind myself I’m still quite young,” he said. “Because I came in and started playing quite regularly, it gets frustrating when you have a time like the last year or so when you don’t play so much. But I’m still only 22 and the boys who are in the team have got a bit extra experience over me.
“I’ve played over 20 games in the lower leagues in Scotland, more than 60 games for Hibs and I’ve also played for Plymouth, so I’ve got a fair bit of experience for my age. I feel like I’m growing up as a player and using my experience in games. The more you do something, the more you learn and I believe you need to try and learn every day. At this club, we’ve got a great manager who I’m learning from and three experienced centre-halves plus two experienced full-backs in Davie [Gray] and Lewis [Stevenson] who I’m learning from every day. I appreciate the position I’m in.”
Underlining the size of his task in battling to get into the Hibs team, Forster believes the on-form Hanlon, 26, is playing at a level befitting of a Scotland call-up. “I made my debut beside Paul at Tynecastle and I trained with him before that when I was young, and for me he’s always been a great player,” he said. “I’ve got massive respect for him. He’s been criticised over the years, which is unfair in my opinion because he’s a very classy centre-half. I think he should probably be involved in the Scotland set-up, which shows you highly I rate him. Keeping Paul is probably one of the biggest signings the club have made recently. He’s a great player who could walk into a lot of big clubs.”