I am playing to my own strengths and will prove myself, says Christian Doidge
If Paul Heckingbottom has been getting it in the neck for the past few weeks then striker Christian Doidge hasn’t been far behind, the head coach’s marquee signing of the summer having arrived with a £350,000 price tag around his neck.
But with just two goals to his name, against Alloa and Morton in the Betfred Cup, many fans were quick to write off the former Forest Green Rovers player, bracketing him alongside James Collins, another hitman for whom big money - at least in Hibs’ terms - was spent, his single season in Edinburgh hardly a roaring success.
Since then, though, Collins hasn’t done too badly for himself, rebuilding his career and currently with English Championship club Luton Town where’s he’s averaging more than a goal every game, a record which has propelled him into the Republic of Ireland squad - scoring on his international debut against Bulgaria.
It may be a story of which Doidge is unaware but one which serves to show that sometimes fans are too quick to rush to judgment, the forward insisting, after playing his part in helping Hibs become the first side to take points from champions Celtic this season, he believes he is beginning to show exactly why he was brought to the club.
He said: “When I first came in, I was probably doing things that I wasn’t good at – not the stuff I was brought to the club to do. Now I’m playing to my strengths, doing what I’m good at. It’s about getting on the same wavelength as your team-mates, as well. They know exactly what I like now and we’re working every day on the training pitch on that. I think I’m coming into my own.
‘It’s 100 per cent about me not trying too hard now. When you play with Scotty Allan and Flo Kamberi at first, they’re very technical players.
“I’m probably not as technical as those two – but I work really hard for the football club. The harder you work, the luckier you get. That’s always been one of my strengths.”
Doidge revealed he’d turned a deaf ear to the criticism directed at him although he’s not been alone with Heckingbottom himself facing calls for his head as Hibs slipped down the table. He said: “It’s obviously not my fault that they paid that money! I just keep my head down and work as hard as possible, try not to think about that kind of thing.”
The Welshman did concede he’d heard “little whispers and stuff” of what was being said about him, but revealed: “I didn’t see much of it because, like a lot of footballers, I make good use for the mute button!
“As a footballer, you get it all the time. You have to let it go in one ear and out the other. You know yourself when you’re not doing great. It’s then about digging in and showing character to come out the other side.”
A penalty shoot-out win to secure a Betfred Cup semi-final berth followed by a battling draw with Celtic in the space of a few days have certainly breathed new life into Hibs but, insisted Doidge, there can be no respite. “Coming through that rough spell shows who the characters are,” he said. “When you start picking up half decent results, that shows something.
“Obviously we’re not getting carried away with two games. We’ve got Aberdeen away next week, which will be another massive game. We have to train hard all week and try to keep the momentum going.”
Celtic boss Neil Lennon admitted there had possibly been an air of expectation about this match, one free-scoring side flying high and the other struggling, virtually unable to buy a goal while leaking too many themselves.
But there again, the Hoops hadn’t won a league match at Easter Road in five and a half years, a record which Lennon himself helped engineer during his time in the Capital and, again, they found the going tough.
Doidge certainly enjoyed a slice of luck in putting Hibs ahead, timing his run perfectly to get on the end of Allan’s slide-rule pass before drilling in a low cross which caught the heels of defender Kristoffer Ajer and span into the net.
Celtic equalised in controversial circumstances, referee Kevin Clancy, who had a miserable match and found himself under fire from both sides, belatedly pulling play back to award the visitors a free-kick when James Forrest went down. It caused confusion, some Hibs players expecting the ball to be returned to them, instead Moritz Bauer delivered a cross for Ryan Christie to head home an 11th goal of the season. However, if anyone expected that to be a precursor to Celtic going on to win, they were disabused of such thoughts as Heckingbottom’s players dug deep to prove they are not as soft as some may think.
Hibs (4-2-3-1): Maxwell; James, Jackson (Whittaker 32), Hanlon, Stevenson; Hallberg (Newell 89), Vela; Mallan, Allan, Middleton (Horgan 71); Doidge. Substitutes not used: Marciano, Kamberi, Shaw, F Murray.
Celtic (4-2-3-1): Forster; Bauer, Jullien, Ajer, Bolingoli; Brown, McGregor; Christie, Ntcham (Hayes 60), Forrest (Sinclair 84); Edouard (Bayo 72). Substitutes not used: Gordon, Rogic, Elyounoussi, Elhamed.