Former Hibs youngster Scott Taggart is eyeing a quick-fire return to the SPL less than a year after being shown the door at Easter Road.
The 21-year-old has overcome the disappointment of being allowed to leave the Capital outfit to become a fixture in a Morton side pushing for the First Division title and promotion to the top flight. The youngster, once part of the Hibs squad which lifted the SFA Youth Cup and Under-19 League, appeared to have a promising career in a green-and-white shirt ahead of him when he made his debut against Hamilton and followed up that appearance with two more games against Inverness Caley and Aberdeen at the end of the 2010/11 season.
However, while spending last season out on loan to Stranraer, Colin Calderwood, the manager who had handed him those first-team starts, was replaced by Pat Fenlon, who would subsequently declare him surplus to requirements last summer. Taggart never lost faith in his ability, though, and has seized the chance to get his career back on course by helping Morton surge five points clear at the top of the First Division.
He said: “Obviously I was disappointed it didn’t work out at Hibs. I had a great time there. Winning the league and cup double was terrific and making my debut in the SPL was brilliant. It’s just a pity I couldn’t get more game time.”
Although he feels he became a victim of circumstance – namely being out on loan when Fenlon took over from Calderwood and set about overhauling a toiling squad – Taggart refused to feel sorry for himself as he faced an uncertain future with clubs up and down the country tightening their belts and reducing their squads.
He said: “I thought I’d done well in the pre-season prior to the start of last season, but I went out on loan to Stranraer and was there when there was a change of manager at Easter Road. Hibs weren’t doing well in the league and Pat Fenlon obviously had more pressing issues to contend with.
“It became clear I wasn’t going to be offered a new contract, which was a disappointment as I’d been at Hibs since I was a youth and had turned full-time at 19. But it was time for me to move on and try to get myself regular football elsewhere. That’s football, you move on to a different chapter in your career.”
Rather than worry about his immediate future, Taggart adopted a laid-back approach, taking a week’s holiday in Majorca with friends. He reasoned: “Football shuts down at that time of year, managers and everyone at all the clubs go off on holiday, so there’s little chance to anything happening.
“It was the first time that sort of thing had happened to me, but I knew it would be like that so I went off, enjoyed myself, chilled out and came back looking to get down to some hard work. I certainly didn’t look on it as being the end of the world for me, although I was obviously well aware of the economic climate and the problems clubs were having financially. I didn’t think it would be easy.”
Taggart admitted he might not have been so relaxed about things had he still found himself without a club as players began reporting, back for pre-season training but it perhaps turned out easier than he might have expected as he was invited to join Allan Moore’s Morton squad as they prepared for the new season with no promises made. He said: “They knew I was looking for a club, they wanted to have a look at me in pre-season, to let me show what I could do. Things progressed from there and now I am playing most weeks.”
Taggart has racked up 27 appearances for Morton, surpassing the 24 games he played for Stranraer and the nine – three for Hibs and six on loan at Ayr United – he’d managed two seasons ago.
He didn’t, however, count on Morton mounting a title challenge, the Greenock club clear of second-place Partick Thistle, who closed to within five points with two games in hand following Tuesday night’s win over Hamilton. The top two shared the points at the weekend, with The Ton fighting back from 2-0 down to claim a 2-2 draw against the Jags at Cappielow.
Taggart, whose only goal so far for Morton was the winner against Partick at Firhill on Boxing Day, said: “We knew we had a decent squad at the start of the season, but we said we’d wait until ten games or so had gone and see what happened. Then we went on a run of eight or nine matches without losing which put us right up the table.
“The weekend result was a big one for us. Having been 2-0 down we could quite easily have lost, but we managed to get a point and keep the gap between ourselves and Partick, even if they closed it the other night.
“We’ve got the points on the board, but they’ve got games in hand having missed a few because of the weather – the pressure is on them to win them, though. We just have to concentrate on ourselves and keep picking up points. This is a tough league, every game you play, you know there’s no team going to give you an easy time of it, you have to work hard to get the three points.”
Taggart pointed to how he and his team-mates had lost 3-0 to Dumbarton only a few days after beating fellow promotion hopefuls Dunfermline 4-2 as proof. “At that time Ian Murray hadn’t been manager long at Dumbarton, but he’s done a great job there and in the space of a few weeks they beat not only us but Partick and Falkirk, which shows just how hard it can be for every team in the league.
“We are happy to be top of the league at the moment, but there is still a long way to go. I’m not saying it wouldn’t be great to win it and get into the SPL, but we still have 12 matches to play, that’s a long way to go.”
Whether or not Morton make it remains to be seen, but Taggart believes his own experience can provide hope for those youngsters who will find themselves in a similar situation at the end of this season.
He said: “I’m still only 21, but with my loan spells at Ayr and Stranraer I’ve actually played in all four divisions in Scotland – there won’t be many of my age who can say that.
“I’m still learning, of course, but I’ve clocked up 60 first-team games. As I’ve said, it’s disappointing when you are told a big club no longer wants you but it doesn’t mean it’s all over or that because one club doesn’t want you, no-one does. You have to keep your head up, move on and work hard at whatever opportunity comes your way.”