George FRANCOMB today revealed how his first taste of SPL action took his breath away.
The youngster was pitched into the crunch relegation clash with Dunfermline barely 48 hours after agreeing a loan deal from English Premier League outfit Norwich City – and loved every one of the 22 minutes he spent on the pitch.
But, he confessed, the frenetic pace of the match, the first he had played in a month, had left him “blowing a bit” and in awe of midfield powerhouse Isaiah Osbourne who, despite five weeks out, charged up and down the East End Park pitch for almost the entire 90 minutes.
The former Aston Villa star, with just two training sessions under his belt, was finally forced to quit with just four minutes remaining by which time two goals from Leigh Griffiths, either side of Garry O’Connor’s 12th goal of the season, had secured a vital win for the Edinburgh club – and made it a day to remember for Francomb.
The 20-year-old, who replaced fellow new signing Eoin Doyle, said: “It was what you might have expected from two teams at the bottom of the League battling it out. It was a bit scrappy at times, the pace was frantic but we dug deep and got the win we needed.
“I hadn’t played in about a month at Norwich so when I came on I was blowing a bit but I managed to settle into the game.
“It was a great atmosphere, I was really impressed by the turn out from the Hibs fans. They were brilliant from the warm-up right through to the final whistle.
“Having them right behind us was great, it gives you more belief, especially in games such as this one which was always going to be tight.”
The win, as the 3-2 scoreline suggests, wasn’t straightforward, former Hearts star Andy Kirk nodding the Pars ahead before Leigh Griffiths and Garry O’Connor got Hibs’ noses in front only for Edinburgh-born Liam Buchanan to equalise for the home side.
His celebrations, however, were cut short as Griffiths claimed his second of the game within a minute, securing Hibs first League win in ten matches, one which has opened the gap between Pat Fenlon’s team and the Fife club to four points.
As Francomb acknowledged, there’s still much work to be done but, he insisted, he’s determined to play his part having opted for Easter Road rather than the sanctuary of the lower leagues in England.
He said: “I know Hibs have been on a bit of a downer, but it is still a massive club up here, one with a great set-up, a fantastic training ground and a fine stadium.
“I thought it would be a great experience for me, the SPL was always going to be a better standard than the lower league clubs which were on offer to me down south.
“I went to Barnet on loan last season when they were down the table. It was a great experience and, I think, I put in some good performances. So I wasn’t fazed at all by the position Hibs have found themselves in.
“It’s now up to me to put in the performances and I’m most definitely up for the fight. Hopefully we can now get a few more wins and pull ourselves up the table.”
Nail-biting it might have been, but Francomb insisted he had every faith in his new team-mates. He said: “Although they went ahead you had to remember there was still plenty of time left for the boys to get back into it and that’s what we did.
“Even when they equalised so late on I still felt we had another goal in us and we did so straight away which was great. It showed the bottle and character, the team spirit that’s here.
“I noticed it straight away in my first training session at East Mains last Thursday. It didn’t strike me as being a club in the bottom two. I was impressed by the tempo of training and the spirit among the lads. “And when you have guys like Garry and Leigh about you are always likely to get goals. I’d seen Garry on television before I came up and knew he’s been buzzing and had got a few goals, while that’s Leigh scored in our last two matches.
“It shows we have the players to do it and I am sure that one we get a few results on the go we’ll climb the table.
“It was a great way to mark my debut and what made it a perfect day was Norwich beating West Brom, a step closer to staying in the Premier League.”
Francomb admitted he’d also been struck by the tender years of Fenlon’s squad, glancing along the bench at East End Park to see teenagers Scott Smith and Sam Stanton sitting alongside him, 20-year-old Richie Towell and Danny Galbraith (21).
Fenlon’s faith in youth was also reflected in his starting line-up, Sean O’Hanlon’s suspension and skipper Ian Murray’s recent groin operation, resulting in David Stephens (20), Paul Hanlon (21) and Callum Booth (20) forming three quarters of Hibs back division.
Add in David Wotherspoon, 22 yesterday, and it’s easy to understand Francomb’s surprise at discovering so many of his new team-mates are ages with him.
He said: “I know big David Stephens well because we played together at Norwich for two years. He had a brilliant game against Dunfermline, particularly in the second half, and has all the attributes to be a top centre-half, he’s big, strong and quick and I am sure he has a great future ahead of him.
“I knew Hibs had a young squad but I was a bit surprised to discover just how many young players there are here. But sometimes young players are the hungrier players and, in any case, you have guys like Paul Hanlon and David Wotherspoon who already have more than 100 games at this level to their name despite their age. If you are given your chance early on then there’s that opportunity to get a lot of experience under your belt at an early age and the gaffer has shown it doesn’t matter how old you are if he thinks you are up to it.”