Paul Heffernan has found himself on the fringes of the Hibs squad this season, but team-mate Paul Hanlon revealed today that the veteran striker is still playing his part by coaching teenage scoring sensation Jason Cummings.
Heffernan, 33, has been forced to watch from the bench as young Cummings has claimed five goals in his last four matches, taking his tally for the season to 11 and making himself one of the most feared forwards in the Championship.
While the much-travelled Heffernan, limited to just four starts this season, would gladly swap places with the 19-year-old, Hanlon is in no doubt about the influence he has had on the youngster.
Noting how the vast majority of Cummings’ goals in his current scoring streak have come from inside the six-yard box, the former Scotland Under-21 captain said: “That’s where Heff loves to be, in the six-yard box and I’m sure it’s no coincidence that’s where Jason is now starting to get a lot of his goals. He speaks quite a lot with Heff and it looks as if he is learning a lot from him.
“Heff has great experience, he’s a great professional to have around the place. Jason really respects Heff and it must be terrific for him to have someone like him to talk to.
“Jason came into the club and scored a lot of goals for the Under-20s from outside the penalty area or just inside it, a bit more long-range because he has a great left foot, but the manager and Heff have been talking to him about being in the six-yard box because he’ll get more goals in there.
“For defenders, having someone capable of sniffing out those poacher’s goals, it can be difficult knowing there’s a striker in there with those sort of reactions.”
Hanlon revealed that Cummings has emerged as the joker in the park in more ways than one, saying: “It’s great to have Jason about the dressingroom. He is a lively character, he has a laugh and is the life and soul at times. But he also has his serious side as well, come a Saturday all he wants to do is score goals. A lot of people forget that only 18 months or so ago Jason was playing boys club football at Hutchie Vale against guys the same age.
“It’s all happened really quickly for him and it can be hard to adapt as it is a massive step. He’s young, he sometimes makes the wrong choices, shooting when he can pass and things like that, but he’s always at you ‘give me the ball, give me the ball’ because he always feels he can score. It’s great to have a striker with that sort of confidence. He has a great manager who keeps his feet on the ground and the fitness people are working hard to make him better and stronger. If he keeps going the way he is and progressing, he’ll do well in the game.”
Cummings’ ‘hat-trick which never was’, after referee Willie Collum put the second goal of his apparent treble down as an own goal by Falkirk defender Luke Leahy, was an obvious topic for debate after last weekend’s 3-3 draw, although the subject was overshadowed by the way in which Hibs surrendered a 3-1 lead and with it two precious points.
Hanlon, however, revealed that disappointment has not been allowed to deflect focus from tomorrow’s match against Cowdenbeath. The centre-half said: “We had a chat about it and it was done. We’d conceded goals we should not have lost and more disappointingly dropped two points we shouldn’t have. But the gaffer isn’t one to go on hammering it home all week. He told us after the game and at the start of the week but we’re experienced professionals and know ourselves what happened wasn’t good enough. It was the first time we’d conceded three goals in the league this season and while it was disappointing it’s not as if it’s been a problem for us, so there was no reason to keep harping on about it all week and have people getting uptight and worrying about it.
“It was bad defending, we shouldn’t have lost the goals we did but we move on and the gaffer is brilliant at picking up spirits.”
The draw also robbed Hibs of the chance to widen the gap between themselves and Falkirk and Queen of the South. With those two teams facing each other tomorrow, the Easter Road side will steal a march on at least one of their play-off rivals if they beat Cowdenbeath.
While Alan Stubbs and his players steadfastly insist they focus only on their own results, Hanlon admitted that as the season wore on it became more difficult not to take an interest in how other teams are doing. He said: “One or both of those teams will be dropping points tomorrow so it is an opportunity for us to make amends in a way for last weekend. I try not to look at other results too much but we’re getting to that stage, after Christmas and into January where you do tend to pay a bit of attention to who is close to you, who is just ahead and who is just behind.
“Having said that, we have to concentrate on ensuring we take three points tomorrow. We’ve beaten Cowdenbeath twice already this season but they were both very tough games. They can cause you problems and on each occasion we let them back into the game which put a bit more pressure on us. We’ve had a run of games with Rangers and Hearts which have been a bit more open and Falkirk played with two up front. I’d imagine Cowdenbeath will come and set up to try to frustrate us as a lot of teams have done already this season. It will be up to us to show that bit of creativity to break them down.”