Winning a loan move at the age of 20 to a Hibs side which, by the admission of their own manager, requires experience in their battle against relegation from the SPL, would indicate that Norwich City’s George Francomb is, at least in the eyes of Hibs manager Pat Fenlon, a special talent.
“We need more experienced players than young – we need that balance with more experience,” said Fenlon less than four weeks ago but tomorrow, with Sean O’Hanlon suspended, Essex-born Francombe could start in a four-man defence alongside Paul Hanlon (21) and fellow 20-year-olds Callum Booth and David Stephens, the latter having persuaded his old Canaries team-mate to fly north.
Francomb admits he had loan offers from lower league clubs south of the Border but, despite the chance to remain in England, he was keen to sample SPL football and help Hibs climb away from the bottom of the league.
“I knew all about the club before I came here because I was in the Norwich youth team with David Stephens,” said Francomb. “He was telling me about the fanbase and how impressed he was with Hibs. Paul Lambert [Norwich manager] also told me that it would be great for me to come and play in the SPL. He said ‘definitely get yourself up there’. I’m hoping Dave Stephens will be showing me around.”
Francomb has spent four years at Carrow Road since enrolling on a youth scholarship aged 16, and has made a handful of senior starts for the Norfolk club. Last season, he enjoyed a successful stint at Barnet during the early part of the League Two club’s escape from relegation to England’s conference division. He is out of contract at the end of the season, yet has eyes on winning a new deal in Norfolk. Given the predicament of Dunfermline and Hibs ahead of their clash in Fife, with the visitors just a point above their bottom-placed opponents, Francomb can make an instant impression to all by helping his new team pull four points clear of the Pars and, potentially, to within a point of third- bottom Inverness.
The Easter Road side are boosted by their hard-fought win over Second Division high-flyers Cowdenbeath in the Scottish Cup last weekend, and new man Francomb is enthusiastic about transforming that into vital league points.
“I want to get a good run of games under my belt and get Hibs up the table,” he said. “I want to help the club get some wins.
“Yesterday was my first training session and it was not too dissimilar from Norwich, with good tempo and a real buzz about the place. It didn’t strike me as a team near the bottom of the table. Now we have a massive game against Dunfermline and, if we can get a win, then hopefully more can follow.”
Dunfermline will be without their first-choice goalkeeper for the remainder of the season after No. 1 Paul Gallacher was seriously injured by a clash with Rudi Skacel during the 4-0 defeat to Hearts at Tynecastle last month. His replacement, Chris Smith, has endured an unfortunate last three games in which he has made crucial mistakes in each, including a fresh air kick to gift Inverness a last-minute equaliser last weekend.
It is therefore little surprise that former Scotland Under-21 goalkeeper Iain Turner has been recruited to challenge Smith for the position, and the on-loan Preston stopper could feature against Hibs. Whoever pitches up between the sticks will have their work cut out to halt Dunfermline’s record of ten goals conceded in their last three SPL matches.
The Pars have suffered similar woe at the other end of the pitch, with no goals to their name during that same sequence of league encounters. Successive 3-0 home defeats to Celtic and St Johnstone followed their thrashing at Hearts, but hope for the Fifers comes in the form of their record of four points gained from a possible six in meetings with Hibs this season.
Positive energy for Hibs, on the other hand, could be gained from the buzz that comes with the injection of new blood to the first team.
With ex-England U-21 Kyle Naughton, on loan at Norwich from Tottenham, and Scotland international Russell Martin ahead of him in the running for the right-back slot at Carrow Road, it’s no shame that Francomb has been forced to wait for his chance to break into the first team of a club sitting in the top half of the Premier League. The 20-year-old feels he has much to offer Pat Fenlon and Hibs before returning to his parent club – starting tomorrow at East End Park.
“I’m composed on the ball, a hard worker and I give 100 per cent in every game,” he said. “I can also play in midfield but right back is my predominant position.
“Hopefully, I can get the opportunity to play at Dunfermline. I just want to play as many games as I can.
“If I do well in training hopefully I’ll get the nod because my match fitness is fine.
“There were a few clubs in for me but when the gaffer rang me and told me Hibs were in, I wanted to come here straight away. It’s a massive club with a great stadium and great facilities. I know the club’s on a bit of a downer at the moment and in the bottom two but I think we can get a few points on the board and get up the table.
“This is the Scottish Premier League and it’s going to be a great experience for me. Hopefully, it can kick-start my career. I’ve never played up here before so I don’t quite know what it’s about but I feel I can do a job for the team.”