JAMES KEATINGS has had enough of playing a waiting game – now he’s just desperate to get his Hibs career really up and running.
After his early weeks at Easter Road were blighted by a hamstring injury, the striker made a delayed entry, a cameo appearance in the League Cup victory over Stranraer followed by his first start in a green-and-white shirt, an occasion he marked by scoring the opening goal in a 2-0 win against Raith Rovers.
Since then, the 23-year-old has again found himself idle, Hibs having asked for their fixture with Falkirk last weekend to be postponed given they had three players unavailable who were on international duty with Scotland.
It was, Keatings agreed, a far from ideal situation for him although he fully understood boss Alan Stubbs; reluctance to go into action without Jason Cummings, John McGinn and Scott Martin.
Now, though, Keatings is again looking to make up for lost time. He said: “To be honest, a break was the last thing I wanted. I’d waited long enough to get my first start and to get a goal was fantastic.
“I just wanted to get another game as quickly as possible. Scoring, as any striker will tell you, gives you confidence. You then hope to go on a streak of four or five goals in quick succession.
“I still have a bit to do in terms of match sharpness. I didn’t play in any of our pre-season games but now we’ve got a few matches coming up and hopefully I can get some time under my belt and start to feel really sharp and fit.”
It may have been something of a fleeting glimpse of Keatings against Raith but, in that game, he and Jason Cummings – scorer of Hibs’ second that day – looked a promising partnership. However, as the former Celtic, Hamilton and Hearts hitman admits, the pressure is on with Stubbs having added three more strikers to his squad in the interim – Islam Feruz, Henri Anier and Jamie Insall joining an attack already containing Dominique Malonga and Farid El Alagui.
Keatings, however, insisted he’ll thrive in the intense competition such a line-up will bring. He said: “I thought Jason and I linked up well a few times against Raith. He’s a good player and, as he has already showed, he’ll score goals. Hopefully, if the manager picks us against Alloa tomorrow, we’ll do well again together and get on the scoresheet again.
“But, having so many strikers means there will be stiff competition. That, though, can only be healthy – it keeps everyone on their toes.
Jamie had been in training with us for a couple of weeks and we knew he was going to sign from what he’d been saying and he’s looked good.
“I played with Islam at Celtic. He’s three years younger than me but he started coming into the Under-19 squad before he went to Chelsea.
“I’d heard a rumour about him coming to Hibs and he’ll be a good signing – he’s a quality player.
“I have to admit I don’t know much about Henri, I haven’t seen him play. But he’s an Estonian internationalist and he’s looked good in training. He’s a good finisher and a big boy as well.
“Dominique is an international striker. He’s proved he can score goals as has Farid and hopefully he’ll do so again when he comes back from injury.
“So the pressure is on everyone. But competition makes you even more determined to keep fit and keep improving to stay in the manager’s eye.
“I think in football you want that pressure, knowing there is someone there behind you fighting for a place. If you don’t have that I don’t think you are going to push yourself but knowing there is someone on your shoulder makes you want to push on and keep them behind you.
“It’s the same all over the pitch. The gaffer has put together a well-balanced squad and we all know there’s always going to be someone ready to step in whether it’s through injury, suspensions or loss of form.
“There will also be pressure from the fans. They see us having seven strikers and they’ll be coming along expecting to see goals and, the way we play, we should be scoring a lot more. We create a lot of chances and we should be taking more of them.
“We’ve got guys well capable of scoring goals but we’ve also terrific players in midfield – the likes of John McGinn, Fraser Fyvie, Dylan McGeouch and Fraser Fyvie – who know that if they get the ball through to us then we’ve got players able to get on the end of their passes and finish things off.”
Keatings and his fellow strikers have an opportunity to put that to the test tomorrow as they seek to close the nine-point gap Championship leaders Rangers already enjoy over them although Hibs do have a game in hand.
However, Keatings, who scored two goals against Alloa in the colours of Capital rivals Hearts, insisted Stubbs’ players are concentrating simply on themselves rather than harbouring concerns about Rangers.
He said: “It’s very early in the season. We’re only focusing on what we do. We’ve had a lot of new faces come into the squad over the summer so it’s a case of gelling together, of taking each game as it comes, looking to win it and add to our points total week by week.
“Then you look to see where that takes you.”