Hibs kid Sam Stanton today admitted there were times he wondered if he’d ever make the breakthrough at Easter Road.
Although the midfield star appears to have suddenly burst onto the scene, it’s more than two years since he made his debut for Hibs, a late substitute against Rangers at Ibrox.
But, rather than proving a pivotal moment in the youngster’s career, it signalled months of waiting and wondering. A loan spell at Cowdenbeath designed to present him with first-team experience went badly wrong, a knee injury which required surgery ruling him out for the second half of the season.
And, even when he returned to the Capital, he found himself very much on the fringes of then boss Pat Fenlon’s plans, amassing the grand total of three appearances – all from the bench. Although he found himself much more involved this season, it was once again as a bit part-player, 18 times a substitute with no sign of a place in the starting XI.
Today, it’s an entirely different story, a first start against champions elect Celtic just two days short of the second anniversary of that fleeting appearance in Govan earning him rave reviews and winning him his place in Terry Butcher’s side ever since.
As he picked up his first SPFL Young Player of the Month Award, Stanton agreed his patience has paid off, the trophy capping a remarkable few weeks in which he also scored his first goals for Hibs and won his first Scotland Under-21 cap.
He said: “It has felt like a long couple of years at times before I got my chance. There were times when I wondered if I’d get it or not. I don’t think I ever doubted my ability but you are never sure what managers might think of you or whether you will get a chance.
“But the award caps off a really good month for me. Everything seems to have happened very quickly, just to be playing at first and then get the goals I’ve scored. Then there was the Scotland appearance and now this. It’s great.
“I know I have set a high standard for myself but hopefully I can keep this going. This is just the start of things to come.”
Although he’s started Hibs’ last seven games, Stanton insisted he doesn’t consider himself a first-team regular yet even if finds himself being recognised around his home in Trinity.
He said: “I still think I have a lot to learn and improve on before I can consider myself a regular so I’ll keep working away and do as well as I can in training and games. I’ve been getting a bit of stick now and then from the boys, winding me up about my Scotland call-up and saying I’m ‘big time’ now.
“I can’t do anything without them saying something but it’s all been a good laugh. They’ve all veen very good with me and very supportive.
“I’m starting to get recognised now when I go out to the shops. I’ve signed a few autographs and it’s felt strange because I’m not used to it. But it’s a nice feeling. I try my best but my signature is still a bit off sometimes – but it’s getting there!”
While most young players find themselves being introduced to the first team towards the end of a season when there’s little at stake, Stanton has found himself thrust into the action in the middle of the campaign and at a time when Butcher’s side weren’t at their best. Sam, though, believes in that old football mantra of “if you are good enough you are old enough”.
And he was equally adamant he has no qualms about being asked to play in the middle of the park where the tackles and challenges fly in. He said: “You should be good enough to go in under any circumstances and be able to play. It would be nice if we were winning more games. That’s the aim for myself and the team.
“I like being in the thick of things. That’s where I want to be. I want to help drive the team forward as much as I can. I don’t think age should make a difference to what you bring to a game.”
Stanton’s performances have been such that club captain Liam Craig has found himself sitting on the bench as the youngster has retained his place in the team but, he revealed, the former Falkirk and St Johnstone star has been one of his big supporters.
He said: “Liam has been great, he gives me a lot of advice and he has been a big help. It’s great the manager has shown that sort of faith in me. It has given me the confidence to go out and play, to keep doing what I have been doing.”
As much as he appreciated his own personal award, Stanton admitted he’d happily swap it for a place in the top six.
Hibs’ hopes of achieving that goal may have faded a little with rivals St Johnstone now four points ahead with a game in hand, but Stanton said: “We have three games coming up we are capable of winning.
“What St Johnstone do is out of our hands with the exception of when we play them next week.”