Hibs fans hail James Keatings after hat-trick

James Keatings salutes the fans after scoring the penalty that secured his hat-trick
James Keatings salutes the fans after scoring the penalty that secured his hat-trick
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He might have claimed not to have been worried about switching from Hearts to Hibs as he pitched up at Easter Road having been discarded by the Tynecastle club.

But it would have been only natural for James Keatings to have made that short journey with a little question mark at the back of his mind, a nagging worry as to how his new club’s supporters might welcome his arrival.

Given how fickle fans can be, he no doubt hoped the latest chapter in his career would see him win immediate acceptance by continuing to display the goal-scoring exploits he’d exhibited both at Hamilton and then in Gorgie.

A dream start, however, was denied him, a recurring hamstring problem providing plenty of frustration as he found himself in and out of Alan Stubbs’ side even if he did manage a couple of strikes against Raith Rovers and Dumbarton.

How sweet, then, must have been the reaction of the 1570 Hibs fans behind Jamie Langfield’s goal as he tucked away a 77th minute penalty to complete a hat-trick, the first player to acheive such a feat for both Edinburgh clubs since the days of Alan Gordon in the mid-sixties for the Gorgie outfit and then five times in just 16 months in the green and white.

“You used to be a Jambo, but you’re all right now,” the fans serenaded him as he celebrated with his team-mates, proof, if it were ever needed, that he’s now regarded as very much one of them.

Having missed twice from the spot while wearing maroon, Keatings was also delighted to get that particular “monkey” off his back although he’d had to fight team-mate Dominique Malonga for the ball after Liam Henderson had been tripped by Saints substitute Cameron Howieson.

Malonga made his displeasure at being denied the opportunity clear, refusing to join in the celebrations in a petulant scene reminiscent of the one at Livingston last season when he also spat the dummy as Dylan McGeouch was handed spot-kick duty.

Now, as then, the Congolese striker found himself almost immediately replaced and although Stubbs insisted he wouldn’t be getting involved, leaving it to the players themselves to address, the head coach will, no doubt, be reminding Malonga there’s “no I in team.”

Stubbs said: “That’s strikers for you. The most important thing is the ball is in the back of the net. I do not need to get involved, I let them decide that. Strikers are always the highest maintenance, so let them sort it out between themselves.”

It was an unseemly spat but one which shouldn’t overshadow what was yet another impressive performance from Stubbs’ players, a 13th match undefeated as they overcome the loss of an early goal to Saints’ Sean Kelly to have the game all but over by the interval, Jason Cummings scoring for the seventh match in succession before Keatings struck twice, the first of which was due to the sharp thinking of Henderson. Spotting Keatings in space, the midfielder slotted a quick free-kick into his path, his team-mate, who had again been playing at the head of a diamond in the middle of the park, clipping it beyond Langfield and into the far corner of the net.

Henderson said: “Keatsy just gave me that wee look because he’s always on the move and I managed to play the ball to him and he finished it very well. It was just an off-the-cuff thing, he gave me the eyes.”

It was further evidence of the licence Stubbs has given his players to improvise and be unafraid of making mistakes in the final third and one which delighted the boss. He said: “We allow the players to see things on the pitch for themselves. We’ve spoken about it quite a few times and the fact we have done it pleases me – that’s what happens when you are playing with a lot of confidence, you see things more clearly, more quickly.”

Keatings’ second was a superb curling effort which left Langfield rooted to the spot as the ball sailed past him and into the top corner of his net but if the veteran goalkeeper was surprised, Stubbs wasn’t.

He said: “We do a lot of finishing with them and the movement he gets on the ball is unbelievable. As soon as he got in on the edge of the box I fancied him straight away. It didn’t surprise me whatsoever when I saw it nestling in the back of the net.

“It was a quality hat-trick, different types of goals and he will deservedly get all the plaudits. Over the past few weeks our other strikers have been getting them so it’s nice to share it around.”

Hibs had made a slow start to the game, one which resulted in “a bit of a talking to” from Stubbs at half-time in what was a third match in just six days, the previous two having seen them put everything into beating Rangers and then knocking Dundee United out of the League Cup.

Henderson said: “We knew it was going to be hard in the early stages and we did try to look sharp. It’s tough when you have three games in a week, but it’s all about the end result and we were happy with the performance.”

The on-loan Celtic youngster admitted he’s thriving under Stubbs, the first manager he claimed to have trusted him week in, week out.

The 19-year-old said: “I’m trying to work hard and keep listening to him, Taff [Andy Holden] and John [Doolan] because I’m still young, I’m learning from the senior pros too, like Davie Gray, Lewis Stevenson and Paul Hanlon and hopefully I can continue to do that.

“Neil Lennon put me in the team at 17 when Celtic were going for the title so he showed faith in me and I’m in debt to him for that. But Alan Stubbs has put a lot of faith in me and I’m thoroughly enjoying it. It gives you added confidence that he wants me to make things happen for his team.”

And to underline the fact Henderson is still very much a raw youngster, Stubbs said: “Liam has ability, that’s unquestionable. He is getting better and better but I still get annoyed with him when he takes a couple of risks in his own third, especially on the edge of the box.

“That’s not good for my blood pressure, but he is learning the game and when you are a young player you are going to make a mistake or two. But he has an understanding of the game. Sometimes he gives you the impression he is starting to look tired and then he goes again.”

This latest victory keeps Hibs very much on the coat tails of Championship leaders Rangers who, Henderson insisted, are very much in their sights. He said: “It would mean a lot to get this club back to where it belongs because it is too big a club to be in the Championship. If we can keep going the way we are we have a good chance.”