His time at Easter Road was over almost before it had begun, but Josh Peters believes his four months as a Hibs player is the secret behind the goals which have driven Forfar Athletic to the top of League Two.
The 20-year-old has scored ten goals in 11 games which have also helped the Station Park outfit into the last 16 of the Irn-Bru Cup and a tie against Welsh club The New Saints. And, while it may be a far cry from training alongside the likes of Jason Cummings and Anthony Stokes, Peters feels he has taken a step back to move his career forward.
Plucked from the obscurity of Highland League side Strathspey Thistle in January, Peters admitted pitching up at East Mains was a real eye-opener to the demands of playing for one of Scotland’s biggest clubs, even turning out for Hibs Under-20 side a huge step up from life in Grantown-on-Spey.
Thirteen goals in the first half of last season had alerted not only Hibs but Inverness Caley, Ross County and Hamilton but it was the Capital club which offered him a four-month deal, one which he insisted was too good to turn down. He said: “I’d an okay record for Strathspey, 13 goals in 18 matches which wasn’t bad given we were in the bottom half of the table. struggling to get up the league and not getting many wins.
“I thought there might be a bit of interest from teams higher up the Highland League but I had a trial with Hamilton and then Hibs. I did very well in the couple of days I was there and was offered a contract to the end of the season. It was a massive shock to have a club like Hibs come in for me and it was an offer I could’t refuse. It was a really big step up to become a full-time football player. At Strathspey, we trained Tuesday and Thursday nights so to be in training every day was a bit of a shock to the system with double and even triple sessions and working in the gym. It was tough but I enjoyed it, got into a rhythm and proved I could cope with it.
“Going into East Mains for the first time was a bit daunting. I was the outsider, a total stranger whereas most of the boys in the development squad had probably known each other from the age of 12 or 13. It did take a couple of weeks to get my confidence up and to start speaking to the other boys but, to be honest, they made me feel really welcome.
“I was staying with my gran in Coatbridge, travelling back and forth each day, but I’d go and pick up Scott Martin each morning so it was good to have the company in the car and someone to talk with about Hibs and football in general. I still keep in touch with some of them via social media. I’ve had messages saying ‘well done’ after I’ve scored for Forfar.”
With the first-team squad enjoying their own dressing-room at East Mains, contact with then boss Alan Stubbs and his players was restricted but, Peters revealed, even they had time to check on how he was doing.
He said: “I saw Alan Stubbs when I signed my contract and shook hands but his concentration, obviously, was on the first team. I worked mainly with Joe McBride, Grant Murray and Eddie May but the first-team players and coaches would ask how things were going.
“The first team also have their own training area separate to the development squad but sometimes some of them would join us, perhaps if they hadn’t played on a Saturday they’d train with us on the Sunday.
“But it was terrific to watch the first team train, the standard and quality that you need if you want to make it to that level. It was a good learning curve and it was good to see the likes of Jason and Stokesy in action close-up and see the little tricks they were doing.”
Peters felt he did well with the development squad but sensed as the season drew to an end that he’d be getting released. He said: “A few of the Under-20s who were out of contract had been told they were being released and I realised that if players of their standard were going then it would probably happen to me.
“So I kind of expected it but even so it wasn’t nice to be told. I still had a couple of weeks to go so I took it on the chin, and worked hard until my time was up.
“Some people might think it was a waste of four months but to me it was a great experience. It showed me the level you need to be at to make it. I had started most development games, I was told I had done well and improved a lot in those months.
“It was a disappointment but Hibs were good about it. They put a good word about me around clubs, created a profile highlighting what I’d done that I could take to anyone who might be interested.”
There certainly wasn’t a lack of suitors, Dumbarton, Berwick Rangers and Queen’s Park all making contact before Peters opted for Forfar, manager Gary Bollan having been alerted to his talents a couple of years previously.
Peters said: “I played a pre-season friendly for Strathspey against Airdrie two or three years ago when Gary was manager there. We were beaten 2-1 but I scored and I think he’d kept my name at the back of his mind.”
Even so, Peters admits he couldn’t have dreamt of the start to the season he’s enjoyed at Forfar, eight goals – including two which helped knock Championship side Raith Rovers out of the Irn-Bru Cup – earning him the Ladbrokes League Two player-of-the-month award for August, with another couple added to his tally at the weekend as Forfar thumped Stirling Albion 4-1 to go five points clear at the top of the table after just six matches.
He said: “It’s been brilliant. I never expected to get off to such a flyer. I’m really enjoying my football. I’ve done well in these first couple of months but now I have to keep it going. You never know what might happen in football. I only turned 20 at the beginning fo the month so I am still young. I now know what’s needed and hopefully one day I might get back to that top level.”
Peters’ super-charged start to the season might lead some to ponder if he’s “the one that’s got away,” as far as Hibs are concerned, but the youngster counters that suggestion by saying: “I don’t think you can say that. Look at the strikers Hibs have and you realise it would have been very difficult for me to compete at that level.
“If I’d been offered another deal, I’d probably have found myself out on loan in any case but now at Forfar I’m playing first-team football every week, scoring goals like every striker wants to do – you can’t beat that.”