Matthew Hoppe delighted to get off the mark for Hibs as loanee striker targets Europe and more goals
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For his debut he replaced Harry McKirdy against St Mirren in Paisley around 20 minutes in; this weekend past he came on for Aiden McGeady who suffered a hamstring injury ten minutes before the break, making his first appearance at Easter Road.
Two minutes into the second half Hoppe opened his account in green and white, pouncing from close range after Ash Taylor had blocked Jimmy Jeggo’s effort only for the ball to rebound off Lewis Mayo’s face. Fortuitous, yes, but you have to be in the right areas to score chances. His goal and performance – he could have added to his tally – earned him the man of the match award. Not bad going for just your second appearance in Scottish football.
"I'm happy to have got the goal, happy to have helped the team, and happy to have got the three points - there's nothing else I could have asked for,” a delighted Hoppe said afterwards. "I think we could have had a lot more goals as a team and I think I could have got a couple more myself too. We just have to be more clinical and take our chances but I think other than that we played well and got a good result, so we have to focus on the positives."
He recognises that the injuries are to his benefit in terms of gametime – had McGeady not pulled up there’s a distinct chance that Hoppe wouldn’t have even been on the pitch when he scored his goal – but the loss of more key players, especially in Hibs’ forward line, is a more sobering thought.
"It was a special day for me, I'm really happy about it. I think the team played amazing but we have to keep building and keep getting good results like this one. I'm always hungry to play but it's really unfortunate what happened to Harry and Geads, but I think they'll come back strong. They're amazing players and we'll need them for the rest of this year,” he added.
Hoppe has come into a team on a good run of form and Saturday’s win takes them to six games unbeaten on the bounce. He isn’t shy in describing his time in Europe as undulating so far, with a positive spell with Schalke in Germany, followed by an underwhelming stint with Mallorca in Spain in a campaign pockmarked by injuries and contracting Covid-19. He then joined Middlesbrough in England’s Championship, playing against Hibs during the mid-season friendly in November, but returned to the Capital on loan for gametime and a new experience.
"I think it's important when you're adapting to a new league to get a goal as fast as you can to get some momentum and build yourself into the team and I'm happy I was able to get it so early,” he said.
"My time in Europe so far has been full of ups and downs but I've got to stay consistent and keep helping the team. It's easier to adapt having moved from England to Scotland because I don't have to learn a new language or anything. The style of play is obviously different but I've been able to adapt to a few different leagues already and I think I'm settling in well with the team – we've had good results already."
Speaking of the difference in playing styles, how does Scotland compare to the Bundesliga, or La Liga for that matter?
"In Spain they focus a lot on the technique, and in Germany it's more the tactical side of the game. Here, it's a lot more physical and I think it's helping to shape me into a good player. Being able to adapt to what the team and the coach needs from me is the most important part – whether it's different formations or whatever else the game throws at you. You just have to be ready to adjust and help the team in whatever way you can.”
The goal will have given Hoppe confidence, and he might well be cursing the lack of competitive fixture next weekend. With McGeady joining Martin Boyle and McKirdy on the sidelines, there could well be another slot in the forward line up for grabs. Ewan Henderson impressed on the right of a front three against Kilmarnock and Mykola Kukharevych and Kevin Nisbet could both return in time for the trip to Livingston at the start of next month, but that left-wing role could be up for grabs.
He is targeting European qualification, as well as increasing his personal tally and the team’s ‘goals for’ column. If they can take the many positives from the victory over Kilmarnock then all three of those aims could, and some would say should, be achievable.
"The team has been getting good results recently and we played well against Kilmarnock – we dominated the game and created a lot of chances. We're in a good place but we have to keep working hard and not get complacent,” he continued.
"I like playing as a striker and a winger but it depends where the ball is going and how the game is going. If I had to choose I probably prefer playing as a striker but it really depends on how the game is going.
"I just want to help the team and help them qualify for Europe and other than that, my personal aims are to get goals for myself, help get goals for my team-mates, grow my game in different aspects whether it's my hold-up play or my movement, and keep working hard every day.”