James Collins going flat out for Hibs goals

James Collins broke his Hibs duck against Saints. Pic: DAVID LAMB
James Collins broke his Hibs duck against Saints. Pic: DAVID LAMB
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James Collins has been enjoying the comforts of home after spending the international break moving from hotel life into his new pad in Edinburgh.

But now he’s hoping every Hibs fan will join him for a house-warming party on Saturday as he aims to celebrate his new lifestyle with his first goal at Easter Road against struggling St Mirren.

The 22-year-old finally broke his goal drought last weekend, ending five matches without finding the net, as he scored the winner against St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park, the secret, he insisted, simply the fact he was too busy sorting out his new place to spend time fretting over a lack of goals since his £200,000 move from Swindon Town.

The former Aston Villa trainee had, however, admitted the issue was beginning to prey on his mind, the closest he’d come to scoring coming as he saw a header smack off goalkeeper Mark Brown’s post as Hibs and Ross County battled out a boring no-score draw.

Collins could easily have spent the two-week break between that match and the trip to McDiarmid Park thinking of nothing else, but he revealed it allowed him to clear his head.

He said: “Obviously, as a striker, if you have a bit of a drought it’s going to affect you, but I just tried to keep my mind off it during the time we had off, looked forward to coming back refreshed, ready to work hard again knowing it was going to break eventually.

“I’ve been sorting my new place out, so I was too busy doing that to think too much about things really.”

Nevertheless, there was no-one more relieved than Collins when he saw his hooked shot break through the grasp of Saints goalkeeper Alan Mannus, his first Hibs goal proving ultimately to be the winner and thus stretching Hibs’ unbeaten run to four matches.

While some have described his strike as “scrappy,” by virtue of the fact Mannus got a hand to the ball, Collins argued otherwise, saying: “It was a good goal all-round. We had some good build-up play before Liam Craig played a great wee dink over their heads and I just concentrated on hitting the target and making the goalkeeper work.

“I kept my head up and I could see it was going to cross the line, but, yes, there was also a bit of relief.”

Collins’ battle for that all important first goal was, of course, played out against a comparison with last season’s top scorer Leigh Griffiths and the six-figure sum Hibs had paid for his signature, a fee unheard off outwith Celtic and Rangers in recent years.

However, he insisted they were both factors outwith his control, even if they would inevitably be highlighted each time he played without scoring.

He said: “Of course people will talk about things like that. Leigh did really well for Hibs last season and he’s gone back down to England and is doing very well again, while the price tag was something agreed between the two clubs and had nothing to do with me. On both counts you just have to try to keep focused, work away and play your normal game.

“Hearing the manager and my team-mates backing me was nice to hear. It gives you confidence and it was much appreciated on my part.”

Collins believes that, individually and collectively, the weekend victory will lift morale around Easter Road even further, confidence having been growing in recent weeks as Pat Fenlon’s side have emerged from matches against Dundee United, Kilmarnock, Ross County and now St Johnstone undefeated.

He said: “We have a strong squad – just look at the bench at McDiarmid Park and beyond that to players who are currently out injured. It’s taken us a few games to get to know each other. The first couple of games were always going to be difficult, but now we are five or six in and everyone understanding how others play, their strengths and so on. We’re beginning to gel and that can only be of 
benefit to the team.”

The significance of Saturday’s win against St Johnstone only became apparent to Collins afterwards when he learned it was the first time the Perth club had lost at home since Hibs beat them last November and the first time they’d lost to a side outwith the Old Firm after taking the lead in some six years.

He said: “That’s a fair achievement but, after we equalised, I honestly thought there was only one team going on to win it. We spent most of the second period in their half. I don’t think Ben Williams had a save to make and in the end we thoroughly deserved to win.”

The equalising goal, after Stevie May had fired Saints into the lead, came from Paul Heffernan as he started a match for Hibs for the first time since his shock deadline day switch from Kilmarnock, but, Collins insisted, there was no jealousy on his part at seeing the new boy strike before him.

He said: “Paul is a goal scorer, his career reflects that. He was in the right place at the right time and I was delighted for him. It settled everyone down and we played better after that. Could it have been me? Well, I think every striker likes to see the ball break into their path as it did when Scott Robertson’s shot hit the post and fell for Paul.

“It was good to come from being behind to win, as we’d done down at Kilmarnock in our previous away match. The lads showed great character again and those performances have given us a great lift.”

Home form, though, has been more of a problem for Fenlon’s players, who have yet to win at Easter Road this season and Collins admitted he’d love nothing better than to do so against St Mirren this weekend and also mark the occasion with his first goal at his new footballing home.

He said: “Hibs are a massive club, the fans are expecting big things as are the players, but we know our home form hasn’t been good enough and we are determined to improve. We also want to get ourselves in front for the first time and see how the opposition react rather than us having to battle back from going behind.

“Getting in front settles everyone down and we saw how the fans reacted when Robbo scored that equaliser against Dundee United the other week. We’d get the place rocking if we could score first, which would make it very difficult for St Mirren, but we also have to be on our guard. They may be down near the bottom, but the league is tight and we all know clubs in their position are capable of pulling off a bit of a surprise.

“We have to make sure it isn’t against us, that we keep focused and put on a good performance.

“Having got off the mark, I’d love to get my first home goal. There’s no better feeling than scoring in front of your own fans.”