A month ago Tom Taiwo’s time at Easter Road looked to be up, the little midfielder told by Terry Butcher his game time would be “limited,” the thinly disguised subtext being that the manager didn’t see him featuring in his long-term plans.
Today, though, Taiwo finds himself very much back in the heart of things, hailed as “a revelation” by the Hibs boss as he judges the former Leeds, Chelsea and Carlisle player’s contribution of late although the player himself insists he’s doing nothing different, only making the most of the second chance injuries and suspensions have offered him.
Out-of-contract at the end of the season, Taiwo’s future beyond then may still appear to be somewhat clouded in uncertainty but, for the time being, he’s determined to live for the moment, looking no further ahead than today’s game at Kilmarnock with the aim being primarily a victory and then to convince Butcher to include him again for next Friday’s game with Dundee United.
One of four players said to be heading for the exit door as the January transfer window opened, Taiwo revealed it was his own personal pride which had driven him on as he sat watching his team-mates in action and pondering what might lie ahead.
He said: “It’s always disappointing when you are not involved when Saturday comes round and you are sitting in the stand or on the bench. So it’s nice to be out training feeling there is something to look forward to at the end of the week.
“I haven’t really had to dig deep, injuries and suspensions have given me my chance but what I am pleased about is that I seem to have shown the manager what I can do and he seems to be quite happy with the role I have played so far.”
The exact nature of the conversation he had with Butcher will remain between the two of them but Taiwo disclosed: “He just spoke to me and told me the role he saw me playing, which didn’t look like a very prominent one at the time. It’s not very nice and you have to think about your future.
“But obviously things have changed quite quickly and for me at the moment the future is Kilmarnock, the game after that and trying to stick in the team, not only to win but to perform well enough to keep some of the top players we have out of the side. It’s about pride.
“The boys that haven’t been involved are all good professionals. They train hard every day. You don’t benefit by not training hard. If you do that you lose fitness and if we were to go somewhere else we wouldn’t be in top physical condition and be able to take our chance there. We have all worked hard and the reason is more personal pride than anything.
“The manager has been the same with me, nothing has changed in terms of my role at the club. I have to keep working hard to keep my place in the team.”
And Taiwo revealed the support of his team-mates had helped him through those troubling times.
“It doesn’t change the fact we are all good friends and they’re the people you rely on. For example, Scott Robertson was injured at the weekend but he still texted the boys to wish them good luck even though he wasn’t in the squad. That shows you the team spirit and that we turn to each other when things aren’t going well.”
Taiwo capped his remarkable renaissance with the winning goal against Ross County but he warned Hibs fans not to suddenly expect to see him become a prolific marksman, his only other strike in a Hibs shirt having come against Motherwell almost a year ago while the most he’s scored in a season has been three.
The 23-year-old said: “I’ve always tried to score goals – it’s just that I haven’t been very good at it. But I know what I am good at, I know what my strengths are.
“All good players want to improve and aspire to something better. Goals are important, I feel I am energetic and I have a good side to my game defensively.
“If I can offer more going forward then maybe I will get even more chances. For me the next step would be to try and get five goals a season, then maybe ten. You set yourself these targets. At the moment it’s just trying to get into the box, that’s how the chance came on Saturday.
“Maybe six months ago I might not have been bursting into the box in that kind of position. But the manager has always said he wants one midfielder supporting the attackers. In this instance it was my turn and Sammy [Stanton] held the fort.
“That comes with confidence and going forward it is something I can do and contribute to the team, getting into those positions familiarises you with the kind of composure you need when you are in there.”
As much as he enjoyed the moment, Taiwo revealed he was even happier when, in the dying seconds of the match, he came up with a block to prevent a possible County equaliser.
“I’m not sure if you saw my reaction but I was more elated with that than when I scored my goal.
“Players know what they are about, what they are good at and what their strengths are. Doing the so-called bread and butter is the most pleasing thing and anything on top of that like goals or assists is an added bonus.”