Danny Handling knows things are going well for Hibs these days because he’s not having to contend with a regular flow of demoralising Twitter criticism from disgruntled fans.
The 21-year-old explained how the anguish of being part of a team which was struggling badly and eventually relegated was exacerbated by hurtful messages he would often be subjected to on social media.
He is relieved that those dark days appear to be in the past as buoyant supporters savour Hibs’ renaissance under Alan Stubbs.
“I had a few fallouts with fans on Twitter last year, but thankfully it’s turned for the better this season,” Handling told the Evening News.
“Myself and a few others used to get a lot of criticism. We’d get people having a real go after games.
“I even got it sometimes after I didn’t even play, with people asking why I was at the club and things like that.
“It’s not nice and it’s hard to get over it. I got really down on myself because of it. It really affects you and puts your confidence down.
“A few of the other boys were the same and some deleted their Twitter because of the abuse.
“Before social media, fans would just boo players, but now you can get people sending things directly to you. It can be hard to get used to. Fans pay a lot of money into the club, so they’re entitled to their opinions, but, as players, we know when we’ve not done well.
“We don’t need constantly reminded if things aren’t going well.
“You don’t want to be arguing with your own fans, but when you are constantly getting stick, you can only take so much.
“It would be better if they could understand how much it can affect players.
“Thankfully, it’s calmed down now and it feels like the fans, the players and the staff are all pulling in the same direction.”
After a run of 12 consecutive starts earlier in the season – his longest in the first team – Handling has begun only one of Hibs’ last 11 matches.
“It’s never good when you’re not playing,” he said.
“I thought I was doing well but I got dropped after the Hearts game at New Year and it’s disappointing that I’m still out of it now. The gaffer’s got his reasons and I respect that.
“He never shies away from talking to you if you’re not in the team.
“We’re getting results every week and the midfield’s as strong as it’s ever been, which makes it harder for me to get back in.”
An unexpected call-up from interim Scotland Under-21 manager Danny Lennon for next week’s friendly against Hungary has given Handling a boost.
He will be joined in the squad by his close friend and team-mate, Jason Cummings, who is included for the first time.
Stubbs reckons it’s a good chance for Handling to get some game time after a quiet spell.
“It’s a real privilege to be called up again,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being away with Scotland before.
“It’s a great honour and adds a lot to your CV. Not many players can say they’ve played for Scotland Under-21s.
“You look at someone like Jordon Forster, who never got called up, and it shows how hard it is to get in.
“There were a lot of players Danny Lennon could have called up but the fact he’s picked me is a real boost. He phoned me personally which was a really nice touch. I wasn’t really expecting to be in the squad because usually in the past I’ve been called in as a back-up.
“It’s good that Jase is in as well. To get a call-up at 19 is a big thing for him.
“He’s not really asked me much about it. He’s not nervous about these things, he’ll just go there and be himself and try and be the joker.”
Handling has the security of being contracted at Hibs until 2018 as he bids to re-establish himself in the team.
Having been used mainly as a striker and an attacking midfielder, he is keen to develop as a deep-lying playmaker. “I feel my main attribute is getting on the ball and dictating play,” he said.
“I’ve played as a striker all my days and I played up front for the 20s the other day and scored two.
“I like being a striker and I like playing as a No.10 but I’d really like to give the sitting midfield role a try.
“I’ve played there a few times for the 20s and I like it because you can get on the ball.
“That’s where I see myself long-term, but I’d need to massively improve on the defensive side of my game because you can see how good Scott Robertson is at playing that role having played there for years.”