What Hibs can expect from Dylan Tait as Raith Rovers fans lament bargain departure
Dylan Tait may not have been the marquee signing Hibs fans were hoping for on transfer deadline day, but he could prove to be a significant one down the line.
The 19-year-old's arrival from Raith Rovers – followed by an immediate return on loan – was somewhat overshadowed by other events as the failed bid for St Mirren's Jamie McGrath in the dying embers of the window, involving a fee plus Drey Wright and Scott Allan as makeweights, left Jack Ross short of the quality forward player he had placed on his summer wishlist.
While perhaps not addressing any immediate issues within the squad, in casting one eye towards the future, Hibs appear to have made a shrewd acquisition in the shape of a young player with bags of potential.
A dynamic, combative, yet also skilful midfielder, with boundless energy and an eye for a forward pass, Tait is one of the brightest young prospects in the Scottish Championship, and while not yet the finished article, he has plenty of the raw attributes required to make the step up to the top flight.
From the moment he broke into the Raith first team two years ago at the age of 17, he has established himself as a key member of their side, attracting plenty admirers with numerous stand-out performances while also contributing in the goals and assists column.
As someone who was a regular in the Stark's Park press box at the time, it was clear from those early displays that Rovers had a player on their hands. His career was barely five minutes old and he was demanding the ball, snapping into tackles, spraying passes and bossing games.
Fearless on the park, off it he also strikes you as a confident and mature young lad in his dealings with the media. It was only a matter of time before a bigger club came calling and Hibs deserve credit for identifying the talent, and taking the chance on him.
In one of his first starts, a man of the match display which included a well-taken long-range strike in a 4-3 win over Montrose, saw him named in the SPFL Team of the Week alongside the likes of Odsonne Edouard and Liam Boyce.
It was after this performance that he gave his first interview to The Fife Free Press.
"I believe in my own ability, so I thought I could do it," he said of his emergence at such a young age. "I do well in training every day against good players, So I would like to think I can do even better in games."
This is not a young man who allowed his release from Partick Thistle to knock him back. Instead, that rejection has proved the making of him, thanks to the hard work, determination and no shortage of talent that has brought him to Easter Road.
He made 20 appearances in his debut season for Raith, scoring three times to help the Fifers clinch the League One title in a campaign that was cut short due to the outbreak of the pandemic. He also played a key role in Rovers reaching the final of the Challenge Cup, a trophy they ultimately shared with Inverness Caledonian Thistle as the final was never played.
The circumstances may have been unusual, but nonetheless Tait arrives at Easter Road with two winners medals already in his pocket. Not bad for a player who only turns 20 at the end of the year.
He further established himself in the Raith side following the step up to the Championship last season, not only handling, but thriving in the more challenging environment against the likes of Dundee, Hearts and Dunfermline as he earned a contract extension to 2024.
It speaks volumes that the teenager played 36 times for a side that challenged near the top of the table, culminating in a Premiership play-off semi-final defeat to Dundee, while playing a brand of football under John McGlynn that earned plenty admirers.
Tait has now made 59 appearances for the Stark's Park side, with six goals to his name, and you only have to look at the reaction of Raith fans on social media to his departure for an indication of the high regard they hold last season’s Young Player of the Year.
The reported £100,000 fee has gone down like a lead balloon in Kirkcaldy, with punters who have watched him week-in, week-out insisting Hibs have got themselves a bargain, although Rovers have pointed to “clauses built into the agreement that will see [us] benefit as Dylan progresses in his career.”
Hibs fans who attended the pre-season match at Stark’s Park in July will have already caught of glimpse of Tait’s talents. He certainly caught the eye of Jack Ross that evening, having already been firmly on the Hibs boss’ radar, as the youngster more than held his own against the likes of Scott Allan and Joe Newell in the middle of the park.
“Dylan is someone that we identified last season as a young player with enormous potential,” Ross explained. “He continued to show his ability in Raith’s early fixtures, and my staff and I are excited about working with him and continuing to develop his game.”
Tait will remain at Raith until January when he will join up with his Hibs teammates for the first time, and look to immediately push for a place in the first team.
“I want to continue my form over the next few months and keep impressing the manager here, so when I come back in January the manager will give me a chance,” he said. “I want to kick on and keep improving."
While there will undoubtedly be an adjustment period for any young player taking the step up to the Premiership for the first time, it would come as no surprise to see Tait making his mark in the top flight sooner rather than later.