Keith Wright freely admits he doesn’t envy James Collins one bit, the new Hibs striker facing possibly the toughest task in Scottish football as he follows in the footsteps of 28-goal Leigh Griffiths.
Three games into his Easter Road career the 22-year-old hitman, signed for a eputed £200,000 from Swindon Town, has yet to find the back of the net but, today, Skol Cup hero Wright insisted there was no need for panic, convinced that it is only a matter of time until Collins breaks his duck.
Pressure has been building not only on Collins but manager Pat Fenlon and the other members of his squad after a miserable start to the season, one which has left supporters and players alike highly frustrated after seeing the Europa League debacle against Malmo followed by successive defeats by Motherwell and Capital rivals Hearts.
So far just one goal has been scored in those five matches, midfielder Scott Robertson’s late equaliser against Dundee United bringing a little relief but Wright experienced enough highs and lows during six years pulling on a green-and-white shirt to confidently predict that, as bad as things seem at the moment, there are always good times waiting round the corner.
To those suffering Hibs fans their hero of the 1990s may appear a little rash in saying so, but today Wright pointed to the next two matches, away to Kilmarnock and home to Ross County, another couple of clubs who haven’t got off to the best of starts, as potentially holding some solace for Fenlon and his players.
Wright, now a Football Development Officer with Midlothian Council, said: “I found myself in all sorts of different situations during my years with Hibs and at times like these you really need to be a strong unit in the changing-room, to be together. Pat Fenlon and everybody else will be frustrated, things haven’t gone too well so far and the fans aren’t happy.
“However, if you look at the squad he’s put together there are plenty of decent players at Easter Road. When you are going through a spell like this the longer you go without a victory the more the pressure builds but I am sure the hard work being put in on the training ground will bring it’s rewards.
“I know how quickly things can turn, and when that happens the games can’t come quickly enough and you can’t wait to get out there at Easter Road with the fans roaring you on. I know how they are feeling in the changing-room right now, but what you have to do is knuckle down, be strong and work hard to turn things in your favour.”
As a former striker himself Wright knows full well the burden Collins will feel he is carrying, the weight falling on his shoulders all the heavier for the fact a six-figure sum has been spent for him to replace Griffiths, who has signed a new two-year deal with Wolves after the Molineux club refused to sell the Scotland striker to Hibs where he had spent the previous two years on loan.
Wright, however, argued that to make comparisons between the two would be unfair, adamant that while the task of scoring goals may be identical, Collins will be going about doing so in an entirely different manner to his predecessor.
He said: “I watched the first league game against Motherwell on television and was at Easter Road to watch the Dundee United game and I have to say I was quite impressed by Collins. I didn’t realise he was only 22, he looks more mature than that but he puts himself about on the park. He certainly looks as if he’ll be a handful although at the moment he’s still finding his feet having come into a new club and a new league.
“But the fact he scored 18 times for Swindon at a good level last season shows he has an eye for goal. I wouldn’t, though, be looking for him to get the sort of goals Leigh scored. I can see him being the sort who’ll sniff out the tap-ins, the goalkeeper dropping the ball or him getting across defenders in the box.
“He’s shown he’s more than willing to put a shift in, he holds the ball up well and looks like a good link-up player. He also looks as if he’s got good strength – a couple of the United defenders didn’t look too happy at the way he knocked them about a bit so there’s going to be a nuisance value in that he’s not going to let the back four settle on the ball.
“Like any striker he’ll be desperate to get his first goal for his new club as quickly as possible but so far he’s not had a lot to work off, he’s been living on scraps. But I’m sure that if both he and Rowan Vine get delivery into the box they’ll get goals.”
The absence of wide players Paul Cairney and Alex Harris through long-term injury hasn’t helped in that regard but Wright, who could always rely on midfielders such as Pat McGinlay, Michael O’Neill, Mickey Weir and Kevin McAllister to chip in with their fair share of goals throughout a season believes the sight of Scott Robertson notching Hibs’ first of the season may just signal that Hibs have someone in that area who can help take the weight off the frontmen.
“I thought there was too much pressure on Leigh last season although he was magnificent for Hibs. Anyone who can score goals from midfield is a massive boost for any side. Scott Robertson looks to me as if he could be the one. He was sharp for his goal, onto the ball when his first effort had been blocked with a good finish.
“I’d like to see him be a bit more selfish when he’s driving forward into the last third and to see midfielder going beyond the strikers and into the box to get goals is a real bonus.
“You wonder how things might have turned out for Hibs had Motherwell’s goalkeeper Lee Hollis not pulled off that great save from Scott in the first match when the score was 0-0. Those, though, are the fine margins in football at times, Hibs might have won both those matches 1-0 rather than losing by the same scoreline.
“Now they have two matches against Kilmarnock and Ross County, who also haven’t started too well, and if Hibs can get two wins then they’ll feel things are turning for them.”