Josh Campbell reveals what accelerated his development after signing new contract with Hibs
While his Easter Road club-mates were preparing for 2021 Scottish Cup final clash with St Johnstone, Josh Campbell was experiencing season-ending heartbreak of an altogether different nature.
Instead of playing at the vast surroundings of an empty Hampden Park, Campbell walked off six minutes from the end of Edinburgh City’s League One play-off final defeat at Dumbarton. The Citizens won the second-leg encounter 1-0 with Ouzy See scoring shortly after half-time, but a red card brandished to ex-Hearts youngster Liam Henderson hindered their chances and they weren’t able to find the second goal necessary after losing the first match 3-1 at Ainslie Park.
As he sat in the stands at the C&G Systems Stadium, could the 21-year-old have possibly imagined just six months later he’d play in a Premier Sports Cup semi-final, start four consecutive games for the club he’s been with since a small boy and do well enough to earn a new four-year contract?
"Definitely not!” Campbell laughed when asked whether he could have foreseen this rapid ascent. It’s typical for players to go out on loan to lower-league clubs and then break into the first-team the following season. But those usually primed for a breakout go to the lower half of the Premiership or the second tier. It’s fairly unusual to go from League Two football to the cinch Premiership, and potentially a starting place in a cup final, in such a short space of time. Nevertheless, Campbell credits his excellent spell at City with making him a more rounded player and one capable of starring for the Easter Road side.
"It helped me massively. I was playing in a position that I'd never played before on the left wing, but I really enjoyed it and scored a number of goals, got a few assists,” said the young midfielder. “It was something I unlocked that I didn't know I had. It was enjoyable.
"James McDonaugh, who used to be here, was my first coach here 11 years ago and he got in contact with me. I just wanted to play first-team football regularly and he asked if I wanted to come and I agreed.
"I expected to break into the first team when I was a bit younger, but everyone breaks through at different ages and I'm just happy that it's happened now. I just need to keep working hard and stay in the team.”
Asked whether he doubted whether it was ever going to happen for him at Hibs, he responded: "It's at the back of your mind at times but if I just don't focus on that and let the football do the talking, work hard in training, then good things come and that's happening.”
It’s now a case of maintaining the status quo for Campbell, who has started the last four games for Jack Ross’ side. Brought in, as the player himself puts it, for his pressing and energy at the tip of the midfield three in the 3-1 Premier Sports Cup semi-final victory over Rangers, he’s been trusted in matches where the onus is on Hibs to go and attack the opposition, like the defeat at Ross County and 2-1 win over St Johnstone.
Even compared to the beginning of the campaign, where he came off the bench in a 3-2 win at the home of Saturday’s opponents Motherwell, Campbell feels he’s improved his game.
"I'm more confident than I was when I came on at Motherwell,” he admitted. “I was a little shy and didn't want to try and do too much in attack or make any mistakes. But the gaffer has put his trust in me. He's happy that, if I do make a mistake, I just have to react to it.
“My confidence is sky high right now. It definitely helps playing most of both games against Rangers. I think I did quite well.”
His manager has been keen to stress that Campbell isn’t just in the team for his industrious nature but for the quality in which he can bring to the attack. This was backed up by assistant boss John Potter when he was quizzed on Campbell’s ascent.
“Josh is a good player and we’ve always known he was a good player,” said the Hibs No.2.
“There’s just been little bits. First of all, he had to work hard to get his opportunity, which he’s done. And then when you get the opportunity you’ve got to try to take it and I think in his performances he has done that. He’s played well in the games when he’s got in.
“He was probably a bit unfortunate, because he probably could have been in a couple more starting line-ups before when we had a couple of games called off. But he’s worked hard, he’s been patient and worked on little bits of his game that we’ve spoken about, and he’s done well.
"It’s about him being consistently good in games and adding little bits to his game.”
A contract until running until 2025 should mean this recent burst is just the beginning for the player in the first-team. But for the here and now, the focus is on getting three points against Motherwell and building up confidence before the Hampden Park showdown with Celtic later this month.
"We had a meeting this morning about our run coming before the cup final,” said Campbell. “It's important we get at least three wins and a draw, if not win all four games. It's important we build up some momentum. We really need to get back up the league. Tomorrow is a massive game.”