Danny Handling still smiling after Hibs’ Fir Park thriller

Danny Handling celebrates
Danny Handling celebrates
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It cost one fan a cool £2300, but for Hibs kid Danny Handling his first goal for the Easter Road club was priceless.

The confident supporter had put a tenner on Pat Fenlon’s side at odds of 230/1 to beat Motherwell 3-0 with David Wotherspoon scoring the first goal at Fir Park. It may have looked more than a tad ambitious but the punter looked set for a handy pay-off as the game headed deep into added on time exactly as he had predicted.

However, he was forced to rip up his betting slip in anguish as 18-year-old Handling stepped off the bench to complete an emphatic 4-0 victory for the Capital outfit, their biggest away win since defeating Motherwell 6-1 at Fir Park six years ago.

Handling, of course, knew nothing of the bet until much later, revealing: “Someone posted on my Twitter account that I’d cost him a right few pounds and obviously he’ll be gutted. But for me it’s a moment I’ll always remember and treasure. The fact I also scored with all the Hibs fans behind that goal simply added to the moment for me.”

Handling admitted, though, that his big moment might never have arrived had referee Stevie O’Reilly not been forced to limp off with a calf strain, the delay as fourth official Iain Brines prepared to take over adding some seven minutes to the game, his goal coming with just 60 seconds to go.

He said: “Had he not been injured then I suppose we wouldn’t have had as much extra time and possibly I might not have got my goal. I’d actually been waiting to go on for a few minutes but the ball didn’t go out of play.

“I thought my chance had gone when I saw one shot blocked but then I saw Spoony pick up the ball deep inside their half and with the skill he has I felt he’d create some sort of chance. He got past a couple of challenges and into the box before cutting it back for me to score with my left foot.”

Handling’s joy was shared by Wotherspoon who scored on his debut when he wasn’t much older than his team-mate. The midfielder said: “I still remember that goal against St Mirren, it was such a great feeling and I’m sure Danny will have enjoyed the same thrill.

“I’d picked the ball up, started running and the gap just opened up. I saw two white shirts to my left and played it across and Danny did brilliantly to turn it in. It was a special moment for him but he’s deserved it as he’s done really well.

“It’s his first year, he’s kept his head down and worked hard, did well in pre-season and has been in a few squads recently.”

Friday night completed a remarkable six days for Handling, the youngster having been on the bench as Hibs faced Ross County in Dingwall before claiming a couple of goals as the Easter Road club’s Under-20 side booked their place in the fourth round of the Scottish Youth Cup with a 13-1 hammering of Fort William the following day.

Midweek saw him play in the “mini derby” against Hearts at Newtongrange before he rounded it off with that goal on Friday night. He said: “It was a pretty decent week for me but there again, every week is good because I’m playing football. I didn’t get home from Dingwall until about 11 o’clock on the Saturday night so it was straight to bed knowing I’d be playing the next day.

“Ross Caldwell and Sam Stanton had also been on the bench against Ross County and like me they felt exhausted as it had been a long day and a long journey back with the A9 having been closed because of an accident, but happily enough we turned in a good performance in the cup game.”

While Handling, Caldwell and Stanton have almost become fixtures in Pat Fenlon’s squad, the East Lothian kid insisted there was no room for complacency with the Hibs boss more than ready to reward the club’s young talent. Another 18-year-old, Alex Harris, has also been given a taste of first-team action while yet another emerging talent, Bradley Donaldson, was a member of the travelling party which headed for Motherwell.

And while Caldwell was the first to start an SPL match and Handling has become the first to get his name on the scoresheet, there is, he declared, no rivalry or jealousy among the youngsters.

“We all support each other and while obviously we want to see our own careers progress we’re happy for each other when one or other of us gets a chance. It’s up to us to take the opportunity when it comes along but while Ross, Sam and myself have probably been involved on matchday more than others there’s plenty of competition for the other boys as we’ve seen with Alex playing against Dundee and now Brad in the squad for the first time.

“The gaffer said right from the start of the season he’d give the young players at the club a chance and that’s what he has been doing. Obviously we’ve all enjoyed being involved – and we know there are others who, having seen us get such opportunities, desperate to catch the eye of the manager.

“However, we all know we cannot take anything for granted. We don’t look on ourselves as having established ourselves in the squad in any way. We know we are young lads with a lot of learn and, to be honest, we spend the week leading up to matches wondering if we’ll be part of it again. We never know until the gaffer names the team and substitutes.

“We have a very good squad and we know there are other young players, good players, who are doing well and pushing for their chance.”

Handling admitted, though, that having scored his first goal he now dreams of doing so at Easter Road. He joked: “At the moment Fir Park is my favourite ground but obviously scoring at home in front of our own fans would be brilliant.

“Going to a place like Motherwell and getting such a massive win was brilliant for everyone but now we have to look to get more points on the board with another win this weekend against St Mirren.”