Tom Taiwo takes his chance with Hibs

Kilmarnock's Paul Heffernan, right, hits the ground after a tackle from Tom Taiwo. Picture: Jeff Holmes (SNS)
Kilmarnock's Paul Heffernan, right, hits the ground after a tackle from Tom Taiwo. Picture: Jeff Holmes (SNS)
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Tom Taiwo admits he’d become a touch grumpy in recent weeks, looking on in frustration as he cooled his heels on the bench as Hibs hit the skids.

Having featured in both legs in the ill-fated Europa League adventure against Malmo which ended in that 9-0 aggregate humiliation by the Swedish outfit, the little midfielder found himself restricted to just 40 minutes of action in the Easter Road outfit’s opening three Scottish Premiership matches.

After second-half appearances against Motherwell and Hearts, Taiwo remained rooted to the bench as Pat Fenlon’s side battled back to claim their first point of the season with a 1-1 draw with Dundee United.

Unhappy as he might have been, though, Taiwo held back from banging on the manager’s door for an explanation, simply determined to await his opportunity which finally came as suspension and injury ruled Kevin Thomson and Scott Robertson out of the trip to Rugby Park.

Back with a smile on his face, he said: “Everyone wants to play every week and I have been a little bit grumpy recently just because I have not been playing. But the manager has always been good to me both on a personal level and football-wise. He explained his reasons why I wasn’t playing and I had to take that on the chin.

“I just trained as hard as I could, shown as much application as I do in a match waiting for that opportunity and now hopefully he feels I have taken that chance. If not, then it will be back to working hard and awaiting the next opening.”

As happy as he may have been to stake his claim for another starting place against Ross County this weekend, Taiwo admitted the over-riding priority as Fenlon’s squad approached Kilmarnock was securing that first win against a backdrop of growing negativity and speculation surrounding the future of Fenlon.

But while he appreciates everyone won’t be won over on the back of a single result, the 23-year-old insisted the fans who made the journey to Ayrshire, in understandably fewer numbers than in recent visits, would have recognised the effort, determination and desire on show, particularly after Barry Nicholson had given the home side a first half lead with a spectacular 30-yard strike.

The former Leeds United, Chelsea and Carlisle United player said: “It was a wonder goal, but we drew confidence from the fact we’d had 20 minutes or so of quality beforehand. I felt we were the better team by quite a way so, while that’s the sort of thing that happens when you are struggling for a result, there was no need to lose the plot.

“It was a case of keeping playing the way we had been and we eventually got our just rewards, grinding out a result through a good performance and hard work.

“The boys were elated and there was also a little bit of relief in there as well. But I think it’s a great confidence booster because we know we have the capacity to play like that and the fact we got the result complete with a performance was really pleasing.

“We were delighted to put the two things together. We have played well in the past and not got that little break. However, we feel we can be a good side and I think we have shown we are edging along the right lines.

“It was also great for our supporters, they’ve been fantastic. It must be hard for them at the moment with results not going in an ideal fashion but they know the boys are honest and whether we play well or poorly there’s always the commitment and desire there and I know that’s what fans want.

“I think the fans look at the manner of the performance. If we go down without a whimper then obviously they are angry and disheartened but I remember well the Aberdeen game last season when we battered them only to end up losing 1-0 but they clapped us off the pitch. As long as the effort and quality is there, we know they are behind us.”

Taiwo revealed that in the face of adversity Fenlon himself had retained his own self-belief despite the mounting criticism and speculation.

He said: “If you look at the Motherwell game it was an even match as were the games against Hearts and Dundee United. Sometimes you will get a little break, sometimes you won’t.

“We know things have been said about the manager in the papers but in all fairness to him he has kept things exactly the same. He has not panicked, he has kept the boys not involved right in the mix, in and around the squad so you feel part of it and when called on, people have shown everyone is behind the management team.”

That much, Taiwo insisted, was evident against Kilmarnock as Hibs refused to fall apart following Nicholson’s goal, their reward coming in the shape of two goals from Liam Craig, the first within 90 seconds of half-time.

He said: “Liam was fantastic, he gave us a good attacking outlet and did some great work defensively.

“When you score two goals in a game you know you have done well. His first coming when it did calmed everyone down a little bit, allowed us to gather a bit of momentum and what pleased me more was that when Killie had a good spell and came at us we stuck together.”