DAVID Wotherspoon would be a big loss if he were to leave Easter Road, according to Hibernian team-mate Danny Handling.
With two years of a long-term contract still to run, 19-year-old Handling appears to have a bright future at the club, but it remains uncertain where Wotherspoon, four years his senior, will be playing his football next season.
The out-of-contract midfielder has been linked with Hearts, but interest from that quarter appears to have cooled. A Tynecastle source said yesterday that Hearts director of football John Murray had expressed an initial interest in Wotherspoon two weeks ago, but that the possibility of signing the 23-year-old had not been taken further.
Hibs have so far refused to confirm whether they are still interested in offering Wotherspoon a new deal. Perhaps his most memorable act last season was scoring the only goal of the game against Hearts in the fourth round of the Scottish Cup, but he was omitted from the squad for last month’s Scottish Cup final defeat by Celtic, as he had been a year earlier for the all-Edinburgh final.
But, while manager Pat Fenlon may have decided that Wotherspoon is surplus to requirements, Handling is convinced that his older team-mate still has a lot to offer. “Dave is a very good player, very talented and skilful,” Handling said yesterday at the launch of next season’s Hibs strip. “So I would say it would be a big loss if he went.
“If he goes there [Hearts], I would wish him all the best. But I don’t know what Dave wants to do or what’s happening with him.”
Handling broke into the squad towards the end of the season, and although played mainly in a wide role, he sees his future up front. He and Ross Caldwell are the only recognised strikers at Hibs at present, following Eoin Doyle’s departure to Chesterfield and Leigh Griffiths’ return to Wolves.
Fenlon hopes that agreement can be reached to bring Griffiths back on a permanent basis, but Handling is ready for the challenge should he and Caldwell be the only choices available to the manager.
“I hope to become a more regular first-team player, establish myself in the side and hopefully build from there,” he said when asked his ambitions for next season. “Just make a name for myself, really.
“I don’t know what to expect at the moment. Obviously I want to be a first-team regular, but I need to prove myself to be there.
“As it stands just now, me and Ross are the only strikers. So that’s a bit of pressure in itself.
“I’m sure one or two will be brought in before the transfer window closes. I don’t think they’ll just stick with me and Ross, because we’re both inexperienced. I’m sure they’ll want somebody more experienced.
“But if nobody else has been signed when the season starts, it should be good for us. The gaffer will have to pick one of us at least, and we’ll get a chance to prove ourselves.
“There’s a lot to play for and a lot to be involved in. I want to get off to a good start and show I can do a job for the team.
“Obviously we don’t know who we’re going to play in the Europa League yet, but just being in it is an incentive in itself.
“And we want to try and make a good campaign of it, play as well as we can - don’t just play one game and get put out.
“We want to do a good job and please the fans. I believe a top-six finish [in the SPL] is a must for us. I think we just lacked a bit of consistency last season.” Whatever they do regarding strikers, Hibs will have new options in midfield next season thanks to the signings of Owain Tudur Jones from Caley Thistle and Liam Craig from St Johnstone.
“Owain was a good player for Inverness, and a big player any time we played against them,” Handling said. “He was always one of their better players and trying to create things. And he was always shooting – he’s got a powerful shot.
“And Liam brings goals to the side from midfield, which is massively important. You don’t get a lot of goals from midfield, so he is a great signing by the gaffer.”